Beer Store union launches ad blitz attacking Premier Doug Ford for threatening 7,000 jobs
|Toronto Star 10 May 2019 at 07:14|
Some 7,000 unionized employees at the Beer Store are urging Premier Doug Ford not to make it last call for the venerable private retailer by expanding brew sales to corner stores.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada Local 12R24 on Friday launched a public awareness blitz against Ford’s plan to liberalize the selling of beer and wine.
Three 30-second radio ads began airing across the province, blasting Ford for proposing “to spend $1 billion shutting down the Beer Store,” bankrolled by cuts to health care and education.
“Premier Ford, keep your promise that no one will lose a job,” a male announcer intones in each of the hard-hitting attack ads.
John Nock, the president of the union local, warned “the Ford government is creating chaos for communities by pushing ahead with corner-store beer sales.”
“Right now, beer prices before taxes in Ontario are among the lowest in Canada due to our efficient distribution system to outlets that are equipped to handle beer safely,” said Nock of the 450-outlet chain owned by Labatt, Molson, Sleeman, and about 30 small Ontario breweries.
“Study after study has shown that beer prices will rise due to higher distribution costs and the usual convenience store markups,” he said.
“That is what happened in Alberta when it privatized alcohol sales, which Doug Ford’s $1,000-a-day alcohol consultant Ken Hughes knows too well because he profited from it as a partner in Alberta Spirits Inc.”
Hughes — a former provincial cabinet minister in Alberta and one-time Tory MP — no longer has any stake in the liquor retailer, now owned by Alcanna, which runs province’s largest booze chain, Liquor Depot.
Ford and Finance Minister Vic Fedeli hired him to oversee the expansion of alcohol sales in Ontario.
But the sell-off of the 660-store provincially owned monopoly, the LCBO, is not on the table.
Industry sources have told the Star that Queen’s Park could be on the hook for at least $1 billion in payouts to the Beer Store for breaching a 10-year deal signed in 2015 with the previous Liberal government that expanded sales to 450 supermarkets.
That would be to compensate the brewers for $100 million already spent on infrastructure improvements, lost profits during a two-year price freeze in the contract, and the cost of winding down the chain, including severance payments, pension liabilities, and broken lease penalties.
Hughes has dismissed that as “fear-mongering.”
The premier’s booze czar has noted the province has “tools in our tool kit” to get the breweries to agree to revised terms that would allow expanded beer and wine sales.
But he has declined to discuss what those measures might be, stressing it was “premature” and “irresponsible” to discuss compensation to the Beer Store for cancelling the accord.
The complex 10-year deal highlights potential liabilities for scrapping the deal.
“An arbitration tribunal ... shall treat all obligations in this agreement ... as binding and enforceable against the province despite its status as the Crown, even where the alleged breach results from a change in legislation or public policy,” the 27-page accord states.
“Such an award shall be calculated on the basis of the normal principles of damages for breach of contract.”
Nock said beer prices would inevitably rise because distribution costs would increase.
“If the government really wants to lower beer prices, it would reduce Ontario taxes, which are among the highest in Canada. It’s definitely not ‘for the people.’”
Fedeli ducked questions last week about whether he would lower beer taxes, which are higher in Ontario than in Quebec or Alberta, the two jurisdictions the Tories tout when promoting the loosening of beer restrictions.
In his war of words against the province over cuts to the city, Toronto Mayor John Tory has raised the spectre of the Ford government spending $1 billion to compensate the Beer Store.
“Where is the sense in that?” Tory said Monday. “Cutting public health programs and daycare programs so as to find the extra money ... potentially hundreds of millions of dollars ... to pay the Beer Store to change their contract? What does that say about our priorities?”
A poll by Corbett Communications for the Star released Monday found 42 per cent of Ontarians surveyed favour corner-store sales, 34 per cent oppose them, and 24 per cent neither support nor oppose or were unsure.
However, support plummets if it comes with a price-tag of up to $1 billion in financial penalties.
If there is such a payout to the brewers’ retailer, only 33 per cent would favour expanded sales, with 59 per cent opposed and 17 per cent neither supporting nor opposing or unsure.