A co-ordinated push on Twitter by Premier Doug Ford, his cabinet ministers and MPPs picturing themselves in convenience stores promoting the looming sale of beer and wine has fizzled in a backlash of negative comments.
The new social media campaign was widely met with derision as the government hopes to pass legislation Thursday to cancel a 10-year contract with the Beer Store and clear the way for corner store booze promised in last spring’s Progressive Conservative election campaign.
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli blamed “Beer Store insiders who will do anything and say anything to stop this contract from being broken” but would not say when sales would begin in convenience stores, big box stores and more grocery stores.
“You’re going to hear more news about that later on.”
Fedeli himself Tweeted several times about meeting with several corner store operators eager to sell beer and wine in his North Bay-area riding of Nipissing on the weekend.
“It was a great job done over the weekend to get the message out that this isn’t just about beer and wine,” Fedeli told reporters. “It’s about choice and convenience, and it’s about fairness.”
Hundreds of detractors replied to tweets from Ford and his MPPs, raising a potential penalty of up to $1 billion for scrapping the Beer Store deal and other concerns, such as increased risks of convenience store robberies.
“Cannot believe they are back at their stupid photos. Thought the general mocking of the gas station selfies would have maybe taught them something?” said a tweet from Barb Hickey, a self-described “political junkie and rebel” in Toronto.
That was one of several references to a previous social media campaign in which Conservative MPPs pictured themselves filling up at gas stations before a federal carbon tax took effect on gas prices.
Many tweets slammed the government for paying too much attention to alcohol as it is cutting costs and increasing class sizes in schools, for example.
“Nope, not needed, won’t change my mind. Spend as much time on health care and education as you do on booze,” wrote Frances Mote, a human resources consultant.
Health Minister Christine Elliott came under fire from well known emergency physician and media personality Dr. Brian Goldman for tweeting a picture of Andrew’s Convenience in her Newmarket riding and touting the “choice and convenience” of wider beer and wine sales.
“What in the Sam Heck is a HEALTH MINISTER doing tweeting this,” Goldman said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Twitter campaign “fell pretty flat” and maintained “everyday people don’t see access to beer as a priority” given that it’s already available in Beer Stores, LCBO outlets and supermarkets.
“The tweet I put out was it looks like we have a beer crisis, according to the premier. I wish they would put as much emphasis on the climate crisis,” said Green Leader Mike Schreiner.
“Breaking the Beer Store contract presents financial, reputational and legal risks to the province of Ontario,” he added. “The fact that this government is ripping up contracts once again I think sends the wrong message to investors around the world about how safe Ontario is as a place to invest.”
Fedeli insisted there is no financial risk to taxpayers of a potential Beer Store lawsuit in part because the legislation is worded to protect the government from being sued — a contention opposition parties question will hold up in court.
“There’s nothing in the contract that offers a penalty for breaking this contract,” the finance minister said.
Debate over the beer bill grew heated in the legislature Monday afternoon as New Democrat MPP Gilles Bisson compared the government’s Twitter campaign to an effort by Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
That comment was “repugnant and a trivialization of the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish people at the hands of the Nazi regime,” said Conservative MPP and deputy house leader Stephen Lecce.
Bisson later apologized for making “insensitive and inappropriate” remarks.
“I regret any offence my flippant comment may have caused to the community of survivors from the dark history of the Second World War.”
As Bisson’s comments played out, eastern Ontario Conservative MPP Daryl Kramp (Hastings-Lennox and Addington) issued a tweet of his own acknowledging a Goebbels comparison last fall.
“Apparently I used the name Goebbels in a passing reference during a parliamentary comment. I regret any negative impression it may have had.”
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1