Ontario’s finance minister struck a conciliatory tone when asked about beer and wine in corner stores Thursday.
Rod Phillips, who took over the role in June, said he wouldn’t negotiate in public but promised the government is moving forward on the measure in a way that benefits all sides.
“I am looking forward to sitting down with the CEOs of the three major breweries,” Phillips said of meetings scheduled later this month with the major breweries that own the Beer Store — Molson, Labatt and Sleeman.
Negotiations with the Beer Store, which has a signed contract with the government that runs through 2024 to be sole retailer of 12 and 24 packs, were off to a rocky start last spring.
Leaks claiming the Beer Store would need to be paid $1 billion or more for breaking the contract were met by the government passing legislation to nullify the contract and prevent any compensation.
Now, after a cooling-off period, Phillips told reporters he wants to find a deal.
“I think where there is goodwill, there’s always the opportunity for some kind of arrangement that works for everybody,” Phillips said.
Phillips said that while beer and wine in corner stores is not happening immediately, he doesn’t consider this a broken promise.
“It’s becoming more available, but we’re going to do that in a responsible way and we’re doing that,” Phillips said, noting that 80 new LCBO agency stores will open across the province over the coming months.
Agency stores are often found within existing shops in rural Ontario that cannot otherwise support a full LCBO location.
The minister said Ontario’s alcohol retail system is large and complex and represents much more than just dealing with the Beer Store.
“There’s the craft brewery industry, the cider industry, the wine industry, of course, corner stores, as well as the grocery industry and of course, the large beer producers. So I’m working constructively with them,” Phillips said.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019