Shrugging off concerns about international trade challenges and massive financial penalties owed to the Beer Store, Premier Doug Ford says Ontarians are thirsting for corner-store six-packs.
“I had some folks from the U.S. up here yesterday and I told them about the beer battle. They looked at us like we had three heads that you can’t go into a retail store and buy a steak and food and pick up (beer),” Ford said Wednesday.
While beer is already widely available at hundreds of Ontario supermarkets, the premier was defending his controversial decision to unilaterally legislate an end to a 10-year agreement with the Beer Store signed in 2015.
Breaching that accord — inked by former premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals to expand beer and wine sales to 450 supermarkets — could cost $1 billion in compensation to the brewing giants that control the Beer Store.
Because the parent corporations of Molson, Labatt, and Sleeman are based in the U.S., Belgium, and Japan, the Ontario government’s legislation exposes Canadian taxpayers to challenges under trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and its forthcoming successor.
But Ford, who does not drink alcohol, insists Ontario consumers want more places to buy beer.
“I’ll put my bottom dollar on it … that when they are in the convenience store and they’re in the retail stores and it’s a hot summer day … there’s going to be a lot of thirsty mouths going into those convenience stores to get a cold beer,” he said.
NDP MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex) said the Progressive Conservatives “claim they can expropriate, without compensation, whenever the glorious leader demands it.”
“Trade experts and business analysts have looked at the premier’s Beer Store scheme and the reviews … are about as bad as his approval rating right now,” said Natyshak, referring to Ford’s plunge in five recent public-opinion polls.
“The premier seems to forget: populists are supposed to be popular. So why is he plowing ahead with this risky and expensive scheme that could end up costing taxpayers $1 billion?”
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said that figure is “ridiculous” and emphasized that it would be “premature” to say what — if any — compensation would be paid to the 7,000-employee Beer Store, which is controlled by the major brewers with 30 Ontario craft breweries owning a small share.
“The people of Ontario … may not be aware the government does not own the Beer Store, as many people believe. It is owned by three multinational global beer companies,” said Fedeli, referring to the offshore parent companies of the major brewers.
“Our parliamentary system … gives us the tools to get out of bad deals signed by the previous Liberal government. Our legislation ensures that we will get the best possible deal for consumers and taxpayers and we will not be held hostage by multinational companies,” he said.
“This sweetheart deal that the Liberals signed is a terrible deal for Ontario consumers and small businesses. Left alone, as the NDP would want, this unfair deal would continue for six more years.”
However, terminating the agreement could prove costly because the brewers contend that the master framework agreement signed four years ago spells out penalties for breach of contract, including $100 million already spent on infrastructure improvements and lost profits during a two-year price freeze in the deal.
They have already warned they are pursuing their legal options.