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‘We’re not going to turn back’: Ontario finance minister rejects LCBO union proposal

Click to play video: '‘We’re here 24/7’: LCBO workers reach Day 5 in strike'
‘We’re here 24/7’: LCBO workers reach Day 5 in strike
WATCH - ‘We’re here 24/7’: LCBO workers reach Day 5 in strike

The Ford government is firmly rejecting a demand by striking LCBO employees to restrict the sale of ready-to-drink beverages in convenience stores when the province’s new alcohol-access rules take effect in September.

As part of the Progressive Conservative party’s plan to give consumers wider access to beer and wine, the government is allowing for the sale of certain spirits-based drinks, such as pre-mixed cocktails, in corner stores as of Sept. 5.

The union representing 9,000 striking LCBO workers has argued that the provincial liquor store should have exclusive right to sell spirits and pre-mixed drinks and has cited the government policy as one of its key reasons for walking off the job.

In an interview with Global News, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy ruled out walking back any part of the alcohol liberalization policy.

“No, no, we’re not going to go back on that,” Bethlenfalvy said. “We’ve got a commitment to the people of Ontario. We’ve campaigned on distributing those types of beverages, including the ready to drink into the points of sale and we’re not going to turn back on that.”

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Click to play video: 'LCBO Strike: Liquor outlets in high demand as job action continues'
LCBO Strike: Liquor outlets in high demand as job action continues

Bethlenfavly pointed out that convenience stores will be restricted to selling pre-mixed drinks under 7.5 per cent alcohol content, a number of which are currently offered at the LCBO.

Bethlenfalvy, who’s responsible for the Crown agency, insisted that he’s “very optimistic” about the future of the LCBO as the primary retailer for spirits and the sole wholesaler in Ontario.

When asked whether the Ford government could guarantee that its alcohol policies will not result in eventual store closures or layoffs – a central concern for the union – Bethlenfalvy said he didn’t want to speculate.

“I’m not going to make any commitments because I don’t know the future,” Bethlenfalvy said.

Click to play video: 'Ford promotes LCBO alternatives amid strike: ‘Still plenty of options’'
Ford promotes LCBO alternatives amid strike: ‘Still plenty of options’

On Tuesday, Bethlenfalvy sent a letter to the chair of the LCBO directing the Crown agency to “promote and prioritize Ontario-made products and producers” in its retail, online and wholesale operations.

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In that letter, Bethlenfalvy also conceded that the LCBO continues to make “meaningful financial contributions to provincial coffers” and that revenues and dividends “continue to grow.”

The Ontario Public Sector Employees’ Union contends that the government is jeopardizing the $2.5 billion in public revenue by introducing thousands of private retailers into the alcohol distribution network.

During his interview with Global News, Bethlenfalvy suggested the strike, still in its infancy, could wind up doing more harm than good.

“If the union prolongs the strike, that could be hurtful to the long-term viability of the LCBO,” Bethlenfalvy said. “I don’t know. I don’t want to speculate on that.”

Click to play video: 'Distilleries Face Surge After LCBO Strike'
Distilleries Face Surge After LCBO Strike

When asked for clarification, Bethlenfalvy suggested that the strike might drive people to “experience different ways of purchasing alcohol,” before quickly pivoting to ask the union to return to the bargaining table.

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