Finance Minister directs LCBO to promote Ontario-made products as strike carries on

As Tina Yazdani reports, politicians hit the LCBO picket lines Tuesday to support workers, as Ontario's finance minister penned a new letter to LCBO management, promising to support them through the alcohol expansion this fall.

The province’s Finance Minister has issued a letter to the Liquor Board of Ontario (LCBO) directing that the alcohol retailer promote more Ontario-made products once availability expands to convenience and more grocery stores.

In the letter penned to Carmine Nigro, President and CEO of CRAFT Development Corporation, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy requires that the LCBO, under section 9 of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario Act 2019, “create more opportunities to promote these products in LCBO’s retail and wholesale operations.”

“When the government announced its vision in December of last year to deliver the same kind of choice and convenience enjoyed by other Canadians, we were clear that the LCBO would continue to play a central role in the new marketplace as a public asset,” Bethlenfalvy wrote.

“While some have a narrow view of what the LCBO can do, our government believes strongly that it is well-placed for continued success.”

On Monday, the Ford government unveiled an interactive online map that directs consumers to thousands of retailers and local alcohol producers province-wide, including more than 1,000 local Ontario breweries, wineries, wine shops, distilleries, and other vendors such as LCBO Convenience Outlets, The Beer Store, and licenced grocery stores.

OPSEU concerned over Ford’s plan to expand alcohol market

In May, the Ford government announced that beer, wine, and ready-to-drink cocktails would be sold at Ontario convenience stores starting in August. By the end of October, fully licensed convenience stores, supermarkets, and gas stations will be able to sell beer, wine, and ready-to-drink cocktails well ahead of the previously slated date of early 2026.

“I would like the LCBO to undertake the activities below during the lead-up to and post-launch of Phase 1 of retail expansion this summer. LCBO shall consult with the government and stakeholders to inform these activities,” Bethlenfalvy’s letter reads.

The Finance Minister’s latest declaration comes amidst an ongoing strike involving thousands of LCBO workers as the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) seeks wage increases and more full-time jobs, claiming part-time roles now account for 70 per cent of their workforce.

Workers for Ontario’s main liquor retailer will hold a rally in downtown Toronto today, marking the second day of their historic strike. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

More than a hundred LCBO employees took to the streets of downtown Toronto on Saturday to rally public support for the historic strike. Retail worker Chris Stefan said the expansion of alcohol sales will reduce the $2.5 billion the LCBO contributes annually to provincial coffers, which he argued will divert funds from public services like health care and education to private corporations.

Bethlenfalvy issued a statement on Friday saying the government is “more committed than ever” to its plan.

“We are particularly disappointed that OPSEU is opposed to giving people in Ontario the choice and convenience of buying readymade drinks, like coolers and seltzers, in grocery and convenience stores,” he wrote.

Bethlenfalvy’s office sent out a statement on Tuesday afternoon, saying, “With LCBO’s role as wholesaler, distributor, and retailer, we know they will continue to generate revenue for the government even in a future marketplace with additional points of sale.

“As we’ve already noted, LCBO’s revenue and dividends paid to the provincial government have continued to grow year over year, even as successive governments have expanded alcohol sales to retail stores, bars, and restaurants.”

LCBO strike enters 5th day with no negotiations in sight

Among the objectives ordered by Bethlenfalvy, the province is requiring that the LCBO establish an internal/external champion who will lead the LCBO’s efforts to respond to consumer demands for Ontario products, provide merchandising space, signage, and promotional opportunities for small and Ontario producers that reflect consumer trends and demands and update LCBO public reporting to separate out and highlight the successes of small alcohol producers.

The province is also mandating that the LCBO “emphasize the importance of timeliness for paper bag return, including sourcing from local pulp and paper sources when appropriate.”

“LCBO revenue and the dividends paid to the government have continued to grow, even as successive governments have expanded alcohol sales to new retail stores and allowed bars and restaurants to sell alcohol with take-out and delivery,” Bethlenfalvy writes.

“The evidence is clear: you can provide more choice while still generating revenue to invest in frontline government services. LCBO will continue to innovate and compete in this new marketplace as a valuable public asset.”

LCBO’s retail locations are closed for 14 days, but online ordering will be available with free home delivery, though product limits apply. If the strike continues after two weeks, the LCBO plans to open 32 locations three days a week with limited hours.

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