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Support for alcohol sales in corner stores tanks if it comes with cost: poll

'We made a commitment to the people. The people want us to open up the market, and that's what we're doing,' says finance minister
Ontario Premier Doug Ford gestures to a display of alcoholic beverages after an announcement saying the province is speeding up the expansion of alcohol sales, in Toronto on Friday, May 24, 2024.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

One in three Ontarians support the provincial government's plan to let grocery and convenience stores sell beer, wine, and ready-made alcoholic beverages, according to a new poll. 

That number falls, however, when respondents are asked about the potential cost of the booze move to the Ontario treasury.

Pallas Data conducted a poll of eligible Ontario voters for The Trillium and found Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives (39 per cent) have a 12-point lead over Bonnie Crombie's Liberals (27 per cent) among decided and leaning voters. The official opposition at Queen's Park — Marit Stiles' NDP — is in third, with 23 per cent.

The pollster also asked respondents for their views on the government's recent move to allow grocery and corner stores to sell beer, wine and ready-made cocktails.

Pallas found that support breaks down along partisan lines, with 56 per cent of Progressive Conservative supporters strongly or somewhat agreeing with the change, compared to only 19 per cent of New Democrats and 18 per cent of Liberals.

Use the drop-down menu below to explore the polls' subsamples. Subsamples have a higher margin of error due to smaller sample sizes.

The poll also found that support drops off significantly when voters are asked about the potential cost of the move — a message the opposition parties have been trying to hammer home since the deal was announced.

Crombie's Liberals have claimed the deal will cost the treasury $1 billion by the end of 2025, dubbing it the "billion-dollar booze boondoggle." To reach that figure, the party estimated the cost of lost LCBO sales, forgone fees and a payment the government will make to the big beer companies that own The Beer Store.

The province has confirmed that a new contract it signed with The Beer Store means it will pay the brewers — Labatt, Molson, and Sleeman — up to $225 million for costs associated with ending its previous agreement before the end of 2025, when it was due to expire. It's also confirmed that the LCBO is rebating the cost-of-service fees that it levies and opting not to charge those fees to new retailers as the market opening progresses.

The number of respondents who support the move dropped to 19 per cent if the cost is $225 million, and dropped to 12 per cent if the cost is $1 billion. Again, more PC supporters were in favour of the deal despite potential costs than supporters of other parties.

However, the costs of the deal are not yet known and will depend largely on how much business new outlets take from the LCBO and The Beer Store. Until the end of 2025, the government will be giving retailers a 10-per cent wholesale discount on the price of the alcoholic drinks they sell. The retailers can then price the drinks above or below the prices at the LCBO, which will remain consistent as long as they don't go below the regulated minimum prices for different types of alcoholic beverages.

Premier Ford recently did a radio interview in which he boasted of the $895 million to $1.167 billion the government expects to gain as a wholesaler to new retailers, without mentioning the retail loss the government expects at the LCBO, nor the loss in fees and or the costs to compensate The Beer Store.

Last week at Queen's Park, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy rejected the Liberals' numbers but would not comment on the government's own projections. He said he'd provide quarterly updates as the expansion progresses.

"There's always going to be costs and, you know, we're not going to deal in hypotheticals," Bethlenfalvy said. "We made a commitment to the people. The people want us to open up the market, and that's what we're doing."

Pallas Data's automated telephone survey on June 4 was of 1,136 eligible voters. The result was a sample with a 2.9 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.

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Jessica Smith Cross

About the Author: Jessica Smith Cross

Reporting for Metro newspapers in five Canadian cities, as well as for CTV, the Guelph Mercury and the Turtle Island News. She made the leap to political journalism in 2016...
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