B.C. won’t follow Ontario’s footsteps to bring booze into convenience stores

Click to play video: 'Ontario convenience stores to sell beer, wine and cider by 2026: Ford'
Ontario convenience stores to sell beer, wine and cider by 2026: Ford
WATCH: On Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that convenience stores and all grocery stores will be allowed to sell beer, wine, cider and ready-to-drink cocktails by 2026. He added that the move aligns Ontario with other provinces and the rest of the world, where such sales are commonplace. Ford said the expanded marketplace will give people more choice, convenience, and time – Dec 14, 2023

British Columbia is pouring cold water on Ontario’s plan to bring beer, wine, cider and other alcoholic beverages into convenience and grocery stores by 2026.

Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, whose portfolio includes the BC Liquor Distribution Branch, said Thursday’s announcement from Premier Doug Ford won’t be matched in B.C.

“Ontario, I think, has been behind British Columbia in terms of access to alcohol and the different ways in which it can be purchased for a long time,” Farnworth told Global News.

“We have a very successful system in place — it’s a public system and private system that works well together — so we’re not looking at making any changes along the lines that Ontario has.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. bars say red tape liquor laws hurting business'
B.C. bars say red tape liquor laws hurting business

At a Toronto press conference, Ford revealed major reforms to the way alcohol is sold in Ontario, slated to take effect no later than Jan. 1, 2026. When implemented, alcohol may be sold at up to 8,500 new stores across the province, with additional removals on pack-size restrictions and exclusivity.

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Farnworth suggested Ontario is playing catch-up to B.C., which has long had a system that involves privately-owned retailers. He further touted looser restrictions in B.C. on drinking in parks and on beaches, permanent patios, liquor store hours, and the take-out sale of alcohol by restaurants.

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“I’m not convinced that going to a gas station when you’re driving, filling up the tank and then going in and getting alcohol is necessarily the smartest thing to be doing,” Farnworth added.

“I think the reality is, we have a very, I think, comprehensive approach to alcohol in this province. There’s no shortage of locations where you can buy it.”

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The B.C. government has, however, faced mounting criticism from bar and restaurant owners in the province, who say the BC Liquor Stores often don’t stock the specialty products they want and need for their menus.

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Under B.C. law, all bars and restaurants still need to order through BC Liquor Stores, which means if they want that specialty item, they need to order an entire case. They’re not allowed to buy it from private retailers, and some have told Global News that rule leaves them to barter bottle-for-bottle with other bars in the region — tapdancing to supply their business.

Early in the BC NDP’s term, then-attorney general David Eby appointed a liquor policy adviser to review regulations, resulting in a 2018 report with 24 recommendations to improve the system.

One of those recommendations was allowing bars and restaurants to purchase product through private liquor stores. Earlier this week, Farnworth said he hasn’t ruled that idea out.

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High B.C. booze prices driving business to online sellers

Meanwhile, Jeff Guignard, executive director of B.C.’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees, credited B.C. for its “fully privatized” system that includes more than 200 government liquor stores and 670 private liquor stores. He said it’s already achieved the accessibility that Ontario’s announcement is targeting.

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“There’s no big monopolies like you’re seeing in Quebec and Ontario. Out here in B.C., all those private liquor stores are already located in areas that are very convenient for consumers,” Guignard said.

Another 33 grocery stores in the province are also licensed to sell wine, he added.

— with files from Simon Little

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