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Moving beer and wine to grocery stores poses four troubling issues

TORONTO  – The news that the government plans to introduce the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores is troubling in four very distinct ways, said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

“The first is economic. The LCBO brings nearly two billion dollars into the provincial treasury every year. The government is facing hard economic times and is searching everywhere for new sources of revenue. Why would it want to share its liquor profits?” he asked.

“Then there is public safety. Staff at the Beer Stores and the LCBO are trained in the safe and responsible sale and handling of alcohol, and have product knowledge to share. The same will not be true for staff of grocery stores – and some grocery store employees are too young to legally sell and handle alcohol at all

 “A third troubling aspect is the danger that making alcohol more readily available will contribute to more violence in the province, particularly violence against women. We know alcohol contributes to violence, and this makes us question Premier Kathleen Wynne’s commitment to making women in this province safer.

“The fourth troubling factor is a move to take more money out of the pockets of those who can least afford it – particularly when this is coupled with increased on-line gambling and sale of lottery tickets. The wines sold in grocery stores will not be premium vintages, making them more attractive and more available to people whose incomes are already marginal. This is a truly anti-social move, coming at a time when the government maintains tax breaks for big business,” he said.

“At present, people who wish to purchase beer and wine have no trouble doing so.  In fact, in Ontario there are today more than 1,500 locations (approx. 625 LCBO stores, 450 Beer Stores, 270 private wine stores and 210 LCBO agency stores) where consumers can purchase spirits, wine, beer and cider. Who gains by allowing sales in grocery stores?

“It is part of a package of puzzling privatization projects being pursued by the Wynne government. Why would the government sell off part of Ontario Hydro? If the private sector wants to buy, it is because the private sector wants to make profits. If the profits are there, why should they not go directly to the Ontario treasury?

“We have the Auditor General telling us that Ontario spent $8 billion more than it should have through privatization in the past year.

“So privatization costs the government more; and this move with beer and wine sales will mean the government takes in less.  This is a strange approach in hard economic times. The only answer to this would appear to be a desire to hurt public sector workers – a desire which has the ultimate impact of further harming the provincial economy. Good public sector jobs, which provide decent wages and decent pensions – are the backbone of the provincial economy,” he said.