As Ontario prepares to uncap its special advisor’s report on alcohol this week, an expert cautions the province should protect its successful domestic wine industry even as it pursues freer beer sales.
Ken Hughes, Ontario’s Special Advisor for the Beverage Alcohol Review, was asked by the government to look at “modernizing” the alcohol system to provide more choice and convenience to consumers and more opportunities for business.
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Dalhousie University Professor of Food Distribution and Policy, said existing The Beer Store model did not age well.
The province is currently trying to negotiate its way out of a contract with the foreign-owned group which limits the number of places where beer can be sold, hamstringing the Doug Ford government in its promise to allow beer and wine sales in corner stores, big box outlets and more grocers.
Some estimates of the cost to taxpayers of breaking that contract have reached $1 billion, although Hughes has rejected those claims as over the top.
“It’s funny because in light of what’s happening with cannabis and alcohol, we’re seeing both Ontario and Quebec reverse roles,” he said. “Quebec was known as the liberal marketplace where alcohol was very accessible and drugs were frankly like around. And now the last 18 months we’re seeing a reversal of roles. Quebec is really applying hard policies around cannabis while Ontario is focusing on making sure that Ontarians have opportunities to party as much as possible.”
The Professor suspects the expected legalization of cannabis edibles this year may be behind the government’s attempt to boost the province’s important alcohol industry.
The human body was not designed to inhale drugs, so the opportunity to ingest cannabis may attract a lot of Ontarians, he said.
In U.S. jurisdictions where cannabis edibles became legal, alcohol sales tended to suffer, he said.