Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the media is misleading the public when it comes to his government’s plan to extend beer and wine sales to corner and big box stores in the province.
In an unprompted call on Monday to Global News Radio, the premier told host Alan Carter: “There’s nothing wrong with going into a grocery store and picking up a case of beer or a bottle of wine. Now, as for the discussions we are having with the Beer Store, I can’t get into it, but just arbitrarily you guys are throwing out $200 million. Again, not accurate — you are misleading the people and the public when you say statements like that or the Toronto Star does, but that is not very surprising to me.”
The Beer Store and several major brewers have a contract in place with the province until 2025. The contract strictly limits the scope of sales, including the number of other retail locations that can sell beer and wine. Changing or altogether ripping up the existing contract would likely result in substantial financial penalties for the province.
When pressed by Carter about whether the premier would accept some sort of financial penalty to expand sales, Ford said: “We aren’t at that point right now. We are negotiating with the Beer Store, and I’m sure you appreciate, Alan, we can’t get into the details but we don’t believe anyone should have a monopoly on beer and wine, and right now, even the previous government, they pick the winners and losers so certain retail chains ended up getting the ability to sell wine and beer and other ones didn’t.”
In a statement to Global News on Tuesday, Ford spokesperson Simon Jefferies reiterated the premier’s message.
“We’re not going to speculate on the results of any ongoing consultations and discussions,” Jefferies said. “We remain committed to our campaign promise to expand beer and wine to corner stores, big box stores and more grocery stores and we continue to consult across the province. By expanding choice and convenience for Ontario consumers, we are also expanding opportunities for small businesses across the province. Local store owners, brewers and consumers all stand to benefit from an expanded market.”
WATCH (Nov. 20, 2018): Doug Ford says government moving forward with extended LCBO, Beer Store hours
The contract lays out a master framework agreement that was signed in 2015 by the Liberal government, and while it does not specify a dollar figure for amendments, it does confirm a “monetary award” is mandatory as compensation “on the basis of the normal principles of damages for breach of contract.”
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“The province is currently in discussions with the Beer Store and the brewers that are parties to the Master Framework Agreement,” The Beer Store told Global News on Tuesday. “The discussions are aimed at reaching a mutually agreeable amendment to the MFA to improve customer convenience and choice. We cannot disclose the details of these ongoing discussions.”
An industry source with knowledge of the contract discussions told Global News: “In the MFA, the province agreed to pay damages set by an arbitrator and to pay them even if resulting from future legislative or policy changes and even if not available at law — damages will be dramatically higher than the dollar figures speculated in the media.”
The source, who spoke to Global News anonymously as they were not authorized to speak to the media, also said there are concerns that prices on beer could go up due to changes.
“The MFA contains commitments from the Beer Store and the province that increase convenience and keep prices low,” the source said.
Mike Schreiner, leader of Ontario’s Green Party, also responded to Ford’s comments on Tuesday, saying: “The premier should not be upset with the media for filling in the details of his bumper-sticker promises. He made a splashy announcement about expanded alcohol sales but failed to give any detail on the risks.
“The media has every right to report on potential penalties and legal challenges. In fact, the public depends on this information because Ford is silent on the costs of ripping up contracts — whether it’s beer or clean energy,” he added.
However, in his interview with Carter, Ford insisted the government’s potential expansion of sales is in the best interest of consumers.
“Alan, I don’t know if you don’t think the people of Ontario are mature enough to go into, let’s say, a Costco or Loblaws, walk by, grab a bottle of wine and a couple steaks or a case of beer,” Ford said.
The premier added that the move would benefit brewers, saying: “The reality is the Molsons and Labatts and Sleemans, their sales are going to go up.”
Ford also claimed his campaign promise to bring one-dollar beer to Ontario has been a success.
“The buck-a-beer was a challenge; it was nothing more than a challenge. A few places took us up on it. There is still buck-a-beer every day into the LCBO. You go in there, and a couple of beer companies were able to go in there, and yes, I’m first to admit they good shelf space and good for them, and it didn’t cost the taxpayers.”
WATCH: Global News coverage of Ontario’s “buck-a-beer” campaign promise
Carter pushed Ford on the statement, saying: “But there is a cost to that; even if it’s not a dollar figure, there is. You are basically dangling something for them to do something that was a political promise by you.”
Ford deflected, not directly addressing the cost but instead turning to the government’s move to reduce sales tax on beer and wine.
“If we would have increased taxes like the Liberals did, Alan, yes, we would have got $11 million, but if we had increased taxes on everything like the Liberals did, we would have a lot more than what we have. But Alan, I think everyone is missing it. We inherited a $15-billion deficit, and even you would admit, Alan, that our budget was pretty liberal, to say the least.”
Ford also restated a commitment to reduce the deficit and eventually eliminate it within the next five years.