Why have 80% of the beer licences gone to alleged price-fixers?

“If we can’t trust grocers to sell bread, why should we trust them to act responsibly when it comes to the sale of a controlled substance like alcohol?” — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President

Toronto (07 Feb. 2018) — With the expansion of beer and cider sales to an additional 87 grocery stores in Ontario, the Liberals have shown they have learned nothing from the recent bread price-fixing scandal.

Bread price-fixing scheme demonstrates how grocers prefer profits over responsible decision-making

“People have been justifiably shocked and angered by allegations that grocery chains fixed the price of bread for 14 years without being caught,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE).  “If we can’t trust grocers to sell bread, why should we trust them to act responsibly when it comes to the sale of a controlled substance like alcohol?”

Although government controls the pricing of alcohol, Thomas said it defies belief to accept assurances from government and grocery chains that such beverages won’t be inadvertently sold to minors.

“Remember it was not a government regulator that caught the grocery stores in the act of price-fixing,” said Thomas. “It took Loblaws turning itself in and alleging a long-running scheme in return for immunity from prosecution.

Thomas continued, “When it comes to alcohol sales, we can’t risk unsafe sales practices going undetected for years at a time.”

LCBO staff challenged 14.4 million people, refused to serve 250,000 under-age people in 2016-17

OPSEU/NUPGE data indicates 304 grocery stores have received licences to sell beer and cider since 2015. Of that total, 68 of that total can also sell wine.  Four of the grocery chains that the federal Competition Board has alleged were involved in bread price-fixing — Loblaws, Metro Inc., Sobeys Inc., and Walmart Canada — have 79.6 per cent of the licences.

Thomas pointed out that in contrast, the LCBO staff challenged more than 14.4 million individuals in 2016-17, and refused to serve over 250,000, the majority for reasons of age. As well, the LCBO hires companies to send secret shoppers into its outlets to ensure LCBO staff check the ID of anyone who appears to be under 25 years old.

Denise Davis, chair of the Liquor Board Employees Division (LBED), is flabbergasted at the provincial government’s refusal to drop its privatization agenda.

“The privatization of alcohol sales is bad public policy on so many levels,” she said. “It has the potential for making our communities less safe and undermines a Crown corporation we all own that employs thousands of Ontarians and contributes $2 billion to provincial coffers to help pay for public services. What is the logic in that?”

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE