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A cross-country look at beer and wine in convenience stores

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By Labour Day weekend, Ontarians of legal drinking age could snag a six-pack at their local convenience store on the way to the cottage.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford unveiled the Province’s alcohol expansion plans on Friday, noting consumers could see ready-to-drink beverages such as hard iced tea and larger cases of beer in grocery stores by Aug. 1, and beer, wine, cider and hard beverages in corner stores by Sept. 5.

But what are alcohol sales like across the country? Here’s what we know:

Beer-run basics across Canada

British Columbia sells alcohol in both provincially owned and private liquor stores, and craft beer is available at local breweries. In 2016, the B.C. government permitted the sale of 100 per cent local wine in grocery stores. Years later, it removed those regulations requiring only local wine to be sold at grocery stores.

Alberta sells alcohol exclusively through private retailers, and it has done so for the last three decades, with more than 1,500 private liquor stores operating in the province, according to Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC). Additionally, some 7-Eleven convenience stores have been serving alcohol since 2021. In April, the province said it is considering expanding liquor sales in grocery and convenience stores – a move Alberta’s alcohol industry is pushing against as it says it could further stiffen competition.

Saskatchewan transitioned liquor sales to the private sector in 2023, citing "year over year declines in net revenue" at its now-closed provincial stores.

Manitoba’s alcohol sales are a mix of private and public. In most urban areas, only government-run stores sell a full range of alcohol, though consumers can also purchase from private beer vendors, breweries and wine stores. Private vendors in rural and northern Manitoban communities sell a full range of products, however. The province’s government-run stores include outlets within some grocery stores.

In Québec, liquor and most wines are available only through its provincial liquor board, the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ). Beer, cider and a limited selection of wine – all imported in bulk and bottled in Québec – are sold in convenience stores and supermarkets.

Currently, Ontarians can purchase a full range of alcohol from Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores, which are government-run. Beer can also be purchased from the privately owned The Beer Store. Ahead of this year's planned expansion, up to 450 grocery stores in the province can sell beer and cider, with half of those stores additionally selling wine.

NB Liquor, New Brunswick’s public liquor corporation, oversees most of the province’s alcohol sales. Wine has been sold in some grocery stores in the province since 2014, and a handful of grocery stores added beer to their shelves in 2019.

Beer, wine and liquor are sold at provincially-owned outlets in Nova Scotia, though a small selection of booze is offered at private wine and specialty stores as well as manufacturer retail stores. Some corner stores in the province are looking to follow Ontario’s footsteps and put alcohol on their shelves.

P.E.I. has 12 "Agency Store" locations set up in businesses including gas stations and general stores.

Beer is sold at various convenience stores across Newfoundland and Labrador. Wine, liquor, and beer are also sold through stores operated by the provincially run Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation.

Nunavut's 25 communities can choose, by vote, whether to allow liquor sales in their regions, and it is prohibited in six areas. Of the 19 that allow all or some sales, each is permitted to put its own rules in place, the territory's liquor and cannabis branch says.

In the Northwest Territories, liquor is only available for purchase through territorial stores.

Yukon does allow some privatized sales, including off-sale beer at bars and restaurants, in addition to territorial stores.

Why don't all provinces sell alcohol at convenience stores?

To understand why some provinces sell alcohol at corner stores, while others don’t, Mariana Valverde, professor emeritus at the centre for criminology and social legal studies at the University of Toronto, says one has to look back at what happened when prohibition ended and state liquor control was seen as the solution to put an end to public disorder, since it would have a monopoly on the market.

“It’s not often that you get a state monopoly of something that was previously in the private sector, but because prohibition had effectively ended all the licences, then it was possible for the state to seize control,” Valverde said.

With some provinces breaking that state liquor monopoly, Valverde says private store owners – like those at a corner store – have a vested interest in selling as much as possible without having a system for maintain order and ensuring only those of legal drinking age are purchasing alcohol.

Bert Hick, president of Rising Tide Consultants – a liquor and cannabis licensing firm – said not selling alcohol in convenience stores could be to protect youths.

“The cashiers, the salespeople in those stores, are going to have to really have their game on to make certain that they’re checking IDs properly,” Hick told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Saturday.

In April, Ontario Premier Doug Ford made clear he will not raise the drinking age from 19 or reduce the number of stores that sell alcohol, despite concerns from Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in the province, the report states.

In a 2024 report, Moore wrote that alcohol use in Ontario accounted for a rough average of "4,330 (4.3 per cent) deaths, 22,009 (2.1 per cent) hospitalizations, and 195,693 (3.7 per cent) of emergency department visits among people aged 15 and older."

Hick also questioned what role municipalities will play with this expansion, and whether they’ll oversee the alcohol licensing of convenience stores.

“Could you have a situation where you have a convenience store across from an addiction centre or high school that would be able to sell alcohol, and will the municipal government have to deal with it?” Hick said.

“Quite often with these things, the provincial government can make the decision that this is the road they’re going down, but the municipalities are going to bear a lot of the costs of it in terms of any local policing and impact on the community.”

Expansion concerns

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto decried Ontario's decision to make alcohol more accessible, saying the Ford government chose convenience over Ontarians’ health and well-being.

“There are already more than 6,000 alcohol-attributable deaths a year in Ontario, and the changes announced today will significantly increase this number,” the centre said in statement shared online.

The Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) also previously expressed concerns about expanding booze to corner stores. John Atkinson, executive director of OPHA, told CTV News Toronto more harm is caused as alcohol consumption rises.

“These kinds of harms include everything from increases in chronic disease like cancer, because alcohol is a known carcinogen, [and] increases in streets and domestic violence, road crashes, thefts,” Atkinson said.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by CAMH (@camhnews)

Rising Tide's Hick noted the social impacts this expansion could bring to the province, especially for those with an alcohol addiction.

“If you’re in a grocery store, there’s your demon right there, beside the pickles, and so the more available you make at the greatest social cost,” Hick said.

To mitigate what it describes as the expansion's harms, CAMH suggests ensuring 150-metre minimum distances between participating convenience stories and schools or daycares – already the case for cannabis dispensaries – and allowing municipalities to opt out of the expansion entirely.

While the Ford government announced an additional $10 million investment over five years to aid social responsibility and public health efforts to support the safe consumption of alcohol, Hick believes more should be done.

“I don’t think that’s enough because you’re going to have an increase in social issues, drinking and driving,” Hick said. “You’ll have a situation where you can have a convenience store and a gas station, and that convenience store will be selling alcohol … there’s no question it’s going to be a problem.”

With files from CTV News Toronto’s Katherine Declerq and The Canadian Press 

Correction

This article has been updated to include that Saskatchewan has transitioned liquor sales to the private sector.

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