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OPSEU tells legislative committee to put the public interest ahead of grocery store profits

OPSEU tells legislative committee to put the public interest ahead of grocery store profits

We the North
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Remarks by Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), and Denise Davis, Chair, OPSEU Liquor Board Employees Division for a presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs re: Bill 144 (Budget Measures)

December 2, 2015

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Good afternoon. My name is Warren Thomas and you can call me Smokey. I am the President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. With me today I have Denise Davis, Chair of the Liquor Board Employees Division of OPSEU.

On behalf of 7,000 OPSEU members who work at the LCBO, thank you for the opportunity to comment on the changes to the Liquor Control Act proposed in Bill 144.

Back in May, Ms. Davis told this Committee of our union’s concerns about the government’s plan to allow up to 450 grocery stores to sell alcohol.

We pointed out that alcohol is not just another consumer product. It is a controlled substance that our members have a long and proud history of handling and selling responsibly.

We said the government’s plan will have far-reaching effects on the health, safety and well-being of Ontarians for decades to come.

Since we made that statement, alcohol researchers have been able to estimate a potential consequence of the government’s plan – a tragic consequence.

Alcohol researchers in B.C. examined the relationship between alcohol-related deaths and the density of private liquor stores in that province between the years of 2003 and 2008. 

Based on the B.C. findings, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – CAMH – estimates that adding 450 private alcohol outlets could cause 100-plus deaths per year in Ontario.

I urge all members of the committee to review the studies and documentation, all publicly available on the web, added to our kits today.

The fact is, there is strong evidence that government alcohol monopolies do a better job of minimizing public health and safety consequences than privately-owned stores.

There will be a human cost to the government’s plan to privatize alcohol sales.

Our union urges this Committee to consider the human costs ahead of the profits that will flow to big grocery chains such as Loblaws, Sobeys and Wal-Mart.

Now I will turn my attention to the government’s changes to the Liquor Control Act.

Bill 144, currently before this Committee, builds on previous changes.

First there was Bill 91, passed in June, which added a new clause, making it possible for grocery stores to be authorized to sell liquor to the public. 

Then there was Ontario Regulation 290/15, filed by the government in September. It outlines the eligibility criteria that grocery stores must meet in order to be authorized to sell beer. Most of the details are familiar from the government’s September 23 announcement.

There is one element the government neglected to be open about.  

No authorization will be issued to a retail store that is within 10 kilometres of an agency store.

This clause has the effect of protecting the sales of privately-owned and operated agency stores from the big grocery chains.

One might reasonably ask: where is the rule prohibiting grocery stores, or agency stores for that matter, from being within 10 kms of an LCBO store?

After all, the LCBO is owned by the people of Ontario and is operated in their best interest.

The answer is: there is no such rule protecting an asset of the people.

Once more, we see this government putting private profit ahead of the public interest.

Finally, we have the amendments contained in Bill 144.

A new subsection will be added to the Liquor Control Act, banning the release of grocery stores’ liquor sales information to anyone outside of government.

The sales information will be deemed “financial and commercial information” supplied in confidence to the government institution and shall not be disclosed.

The new subsection will prevail over the province’s Freedom of Information legislation.

This means nobody outside of government — such as media organizations, opposition MPPs, alcohol policy researchers, and our union — will be able to independently verify that grocers are paying what they owe the people of Ontario should they exceed their share of the global sales cap of $450 million.

In conclusion, our union urges this Committee to vote down the amendments to the Liquor Control Act included in Bill 144.  

Further, our union urges you to vote down the amendments to the Labour Relations Act that would allow Ellis Don to opt out of a legally binding labour agreement.

We’d be pleased to take your questions now.

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