top feature image

Alcohol Sales in Ontario: Update on Recent Developments

June 30, 2016

The Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) continues to be concerned about the increasing erosion of provincial controls on the sale of alcohol. Alcohol health policy experts have long been calling for limits to alcohol availability to reduce negative health and safety impacts. In contrast, recent decisions at the provincial level have contributed to more and more alcohol access in Ontario.

Last year we reported on the continued sale of wines in farmers markets, as part of a two year “pilot” project. At that time OPHA  sent letters  to Ontario municipalities and farmers’ market organizers outlining our concerns and providing harm reduction strategies related to alcohol sales. OPHA fact sheets on Alcohol Pricing, Alcohol Availability and Alcohol Advertising were also included in the mail out.

Also in 2015, OPHA responded to the government’s plan to significantly expand beer retailing and distribution in the province, by allowing the sale of beer in grocery stores. According to the Government of Ontario website, 60 grocery stores are currently authorized to sell beer, and over the coming years, up to 450 grocery stores will be authorized.
Sadly, since last year the erosion continues. Effective May 1, 2016, the “Wine in Farmers Markets” initiative will  expand to include  fruit wines and cider along with a number of other changes in the market setting that serve to expand access to alcohol. This news comes despite there being no apparent release of a report on the outcome, positive or negative, of the two year Wine in Farmers Markets “pilot study”.

Effective July 1, 2016, The Government of Ontario has also approved a number of regulatory changes affecting the beverage alcohol industry, all of which effectively increase opportunities for manufacturers to sell their products. Examples include permitting take home sales of liquor, and permitting those with a “tied House” licence to apply for a caterer’s endorsement to conduct events at any eligible location.

Later in 2016, wine, cider and fruit wine will be added to the Beer in Grocery Stores expansion, with the first 70 outlets to receive authorization this Fall.  A total of 300 independent and large grocery stores can apply.  

While these changes may provide economic and tourism gains and convenience, at what cost to the people of Ontario? While OPHA recognizes the government’s need to raise revenues as well as support greater availability of Ontario products, safer strategies could be implemented. OPHA eagerly awaits the release of a Provincial Alcohol Strategy, which was expected Spring 2016. This, along with an analysis of the societal costs of any changes to alcohol sales, would be a welcome next step.

OPHA encourages the government to keep in mind the health implications of any further changes to the regulation of alcohol sales and welcomes the opportunity to offer suggestions about ways to minimize the health impacts.

For more information, check out these documents:
OPHA fact sheets on Alcohol Pricing, Alcohol Availability and Alcohol Advertising

Submission to the Premier’s Advisory Council on Government Assets:The role of the LCBO in reducing alcohol‐related harm in Ontario , Center for Addiction and Mental Health  

Too High a Cost: A Public Health Approach to Alcohol Policy in Canada, CPHA 2011

Jackie Kay-LePors, MScN
June 15, 2016