By Bobbi Ann Brady
With the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season behind us and hopefully any hangovers as well, I found it interesting that the Ontario government announced mid-December that effective New Year’s Day 2026, folks will be able to buy beer, wine, cider, coolers, seltzers, and other low-alcohol ready-to-drink beverages at all participating convenience, grocery, and big box stores across the province.
This is nothing new for anyone who has travelled to Quebec or neighbouring US states or, for that matter, much of the Western World. But it’s novel to have it coming to Ontario.
This “new” approach will mean that 8,500 stores will be able to sell these products and, of course, consumers will buy snacks and small items alongside purchasing their favourite beverages. Spirits like whisky, tequila and vodka will continue to be available at the LCBO.
Communication with my office has been mixed on this issue. Some people who do shift work like the idea of greater convenience, others argue it could usher in more social problems.
The authorities now have the right to ask a driver to take a breathalyzer test whether they are suspected of drinking and driving or not. So, another weapon against drinking and driving is in our midst. I think the majority of people are responsible, so I don’t foresee an uptick in DUI charges.
The Beer Store (Brewers Retail Inc.), which is a foreign-owned retailer, had their Master Framework Agreement (MFA) extended in 2015 by the Wynne government. The MFA will expire December 31, 2025 making room for expanded retail sales. The Beer Store and the LCBO will maintain their retail operations indefinitely.
I’ve had constituents raise the concern about pricing. They are angry having to pay about 50 per cent tax on beer, 65 per cent tax on wine, and 75 per cent tax on spirits. I don’t have much to report on the tax front, but I understand the province will be introducing legislation to, if passed, eliminate the 6.1 per cent wine basic tax at on-site winery retail stores, aligning Ontario’s tax situation with other provinces like British Columbia.
And the government has said they will introduce competitive pricing to all private retailers enabling competition and lower prices. As in the rest of Canada, retailers will be able to run price promotions. Minimum pricing will remain in place to encourage responsible consumption.
Regarding convenience, consumers will have the option of buying 12-, 24- or 30- packs of beer, cider, and ready-to-drink alcohol beverages at convenience, grocery, or big-box stores.
In my meetings with craft beer and wine producers, I’ve received positive feedback that the province will be offering temporary help during the transition to a more open market. Craft producers will benefit from more legislated shelf space at all new retailers. And to augment the growth of Ontario VQA wines will be the enhancement of the Vintners Quality Alliance Wine Support Program beginning in 2024-25 for up to five years. And there will be an estimated five-year extension of the Wine Marketing Fund and the Small Cidery and Small Distillery Support Program.
That being said, I noticed last week that Scott Simmons, president of Ontario Craft Brewers, stated in the press that “if Ontario doesn’t speed up a review of alcohol taxes and eliminate some of them soon, craft breweries across the province could close before the market expands to convenience stores…” So, for many stakeholders an immediate further review is necessary.
Recycling is important and The Beer Store will continue to operate the recycling program until 2031. This program has received many kudos from constituents over the years even though there’s often a line-up.
Overall, I think the government is right-minded to update Ontario’s alcoholic beverage situation. I’ll keep a close eye on developments and an ear open to your concerns or ideas to make this initiative a success.
Now that the government has updated this file, perhaps they can focus on any remaining stakeholder concerns and then get on with the pressing issues affecting all Ontarians.
Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk