Alcohol distribution changes to diversely impact Ontario, says Brock expert

EXPERT ADVISORY: December 4 2023 – R0115

As the provincial government prepares to change the laws for how beer, wine and spirits are distributed in Ontario, a Brock University expert says it could lead to a seismic shift in the way alcohol is purchased in the province.

Professor of Health Sciences Dan Malleck says the changes will begin with The Beer Store but ultimately impact consumers and other businesses.

“It seems clear that the province is interested in ending the near monopoly of The Beer Store,” he says of the shift that could see alcohol sold in private retail outlets like supermarkets and corner stores.

Having described The Beer Store as a “relic of the immediate post-prohibition era,” Malleck says the distributor will need to evaluate whether it can continue to exist.

“The Beer Store itself will be negatively impacted unless it can pivot to a retail model that works for Ontarians,” he says. “This is possible since it already has the infrastructure, but whether the owners care to do that is difficult to say. They may find getting rid of the costs of running stores and just selling through other retailers is more practical, though that would obviously be very troublesome for the store’s unionized workers.”

In contrast to The Beer Store, Malleck says changes could be both positive and negative for consumers of alcohol in Ontario.

“Consumers may benefit if the changes increase choice, but it may also result in alcohol deserts in areas where there are no vendors willing to take on the challenges of providing booze,” he says. “Municipalities who issue retail licenses to private vendors, such as corner stores, may face pressure from concerned residents since alcohol continues to be a hot-button issue nearly a century after prohibition ended.”

Malleck says there could also be environmental and taxation repercussions from the shift in policy, given The Beer Store’s return program for empty alcohol containers.

“If there is no way to deal with empties, there may be an additional cost on the province, which will of course translate to taxation,” he says. “But if the booze manufacturers are required to deal with their own empties (as current policy on general recyclables requires for other products), it may make an incentive for better packaging.”

While much of the coverage of the changes will focus on the potential demise of The Beer Store and its impact on various parties, Malleck believes final consideration should also be given to changes that could be coming to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).

“The LCBO remains the regulator and distributor, and that may continue, as happened in B.C.,” he says. “That creates a parallel system of government-owned and private liquor stores and can have its own set of pros and cons.”

Dan Malleck, Professor and Chair of Brock’s Department of Health Sciences and Director of the Centre for Canadian Studies, is available for media interviews on the topic.

For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

* Doug Hunt, Communications and Media Relations Specialist, Brock University or 905-941-6209

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