The Ontario Progressive Conservatives have been hitting social media as of late in their ongoing efforts to open up beer sales in Ontario beyond the LCBO and some grocery stores.
Doug Ford’s government recently announced plans to introduce legislation that would, if passed, terminate the previous Liberal government’s agreement with the Beer Store. If the legislation is passed, the government can expand alcohol sales to corner, big-box, and more grocery stores.
While breaking the agreement could cost the province, and the Beer Store (who holds a monopoly over beer sales in Ontario) has already indicated that legal action for breaking the 10 year deal signed by the Liberals could happen.
“We are currently reviewing the government’s announcement related to the Master Framework Agreement with The Beer Store and are pursuing our legal options,” said Beer Store president Ted Moroz. “The government cannot extinguish our right to damages as outlined in the Master Framework Agreement. It is critical to understand that The Beer Store has, in good faith, based on a legally-negotiated 10-year operating agreement with the Province of Ontario, invested more than $100 million to modernize its stores and to continue to upgrade the consumer experience.”
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But while the Ford government’s quest to open up the beer market in Ontario may run into legal hurdles, the PC caucus is hoping that a concerted effort in their home constituencies would be enough to sway public opinion, but it’s not as though those efforts haven’t been responded to with criticisms.
Conservative MPPs have fanned out across communities, posting themselves perusing through various corner and convenience stores, “desperately” attempting to find beer to buy or just highlighting how there isn’t any available in those establishments.
Cabinet ministers are not exempt from this duty, as Finance Minister Vic Fedeli is shown here visiting a local store in the North Bay area of his home riding.
Every Saturday morning I drop into the convenience store in Callander and my pal Sargun asks me. "Why can't I sell beer and wine in my store?"
We think it's only fair that you can buy beer at local stores in Ontario! pic.twitter.com/9FlpTy6RiU
— Victor Fedeli (@VictorFedeli) June 1, 2019
Other cabinet members, such as Environment Minister Rod Phillips, also did their own visits:
If you’re picking up some chips and dip, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to grab some beer or a bottle of wine too? We hear you!
— Rod Phillips (@RodPhillips01) June 1, 2019
Other non-cabinet MPPs such as Mississauga’s Rudy Cuzzetto have been doing so as well:
Looking forward to coming back to Bobby’s Convenience Plus in #PortCredit to pick up some beer or a bottle of wine. Why should multi-national companies be the only ones able to sell beer? #MississaugaLakeshore #ForThePeople pic.twitter.com/Wq1o0vhR17
— Rudy Cuzzetto, MPP (@RudyCuzzetto) May 31, 2019
As has Milton MPP Parm Gill and Oakville MPP Stephen Crawford:
Coming soon to a store nearer to you – Beer and Wine! We think it’s only fair that Ontarians can buy beer at local stores, why should multi-national companies be the only ones to sell beer? #OpenForBusiness pic.twitter.com/iCzqnllvM7
— Parm Gill, MPP (@ParmGill) June 2, 2019
We think that it’s only fair that Ontarians can buy beer or a bottle of wine at a local store convenient to them, and support small business owners in our #Oakville community. pic.twitter.com/bdwKDEIQFn
— Stephen Crawford (@stcrawford2) May 31, 2019
But by far the most cringe-worthy convenience store visiting in the desperate hope of finding some beer (and trying to make it look as normal as possible) comes from Peterborough MPP Dave Smith, as he converses with a cashier over the lack of alcohol at his store.
Ennismore would like to buy beer and wine at the historic Sullivan's General Store but someone from Belgium, the US and Japan doesn't think the people in Ennismore should. pic.twitter.com/llyz8Wpaze
— Dave Smith (@DaveSmithPtbo) June 1, 2019
Even Tory staffers have been taking to Twitter to express “frustration” over the lack of beer in their local stores, such as one of Ford’s own communications directors.
— Laryssa Waler (@LWaler) June 1, 2019
With all this social media activity, it was only a matter of time before someone made the obligatory ‘Corner Gas’ reference, comparing this to the Tories’ previous social campaign over the incoming carbon tax.
BREAKING: @fordnation will announce Monday the PC’s are bringing back the hit CTV comedy, Corner Gas.
See all your favourite PC MPP’s as they do anything to please the boss and avoid addressing the real issues Ontarians care about.
Check your local listings pic.twitter.com/J17BLfR2T0
— Chris Cowley (@oectagovernor) June 2, 2019
And it took a Queen’s Park reporter to point out that beer can be bought in hundreds of Ontario grocery stores…alongside chips, steaks and other items that go along with it.
It sounds like science fiction, but beer can actually be found in hundreds of Ontario grocery stores — and, look, right next to the chips and not far from the steaks! #onpoli pic.twitter.com/V94GGYKa5J
— Robert Benzie (@robertbenzie) June 2, 2019
It’s not as though all these encounters were all shameless photo ops. Toronto PC MPP Stan Cho, whose parents ran a convenience store, provided a passably reasonable explanation of the government’s proposal, citing it was a matter of convenience and fairness for consumers.
Many others commented that the government’s intense focus on beer seems out of touch considering more important issues such as education and health care funding, autism services, climate change and that ‘ripping up contracts’ after they’ve been signed is detrimental to building jobs and the economy.
But another political analyst commented on how it was unfair for a prior government’s policy to bind the hands of a successive government who was elected to do something different, and that ‘progressive types’ who are usually not inclined to support the PCs should be cheering their move. The 2015 agreement the Liberals signed basically allowed them to continue ‘making policy’ after they were turfed from office. If Ford was allowed to, say, ban the carbon tax permanently from Ontario, then a successive non-PC government’s hands would be tied by the previous government’s ban on carbon taxation.
The idea of foreign owned companies holding a monopoly on selling beer in Ontario is fundamentally unfair in terms of the operation of free market principles. Perhaps Ford’s strategy of having his MPPs fan out across their communities doing these photo ops is a way to tap into that popular opinion to galvanize more support for their policy.
But have the Tories expended too much political energy into this one issue over all others? If they somehow get out of this 10 year deal with the Beer Store with minimum penalties, perhaps it would be worth it.