Ontario finance minister not ruling out selling alcohol in convenience stores

TORONTO – Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa isn’t ruling out the sale of alcohol in convenience stores.

Asked repeatedly whether he’d allow convenience stores to sell booze, Sousa wouldn’t close the door to the change, which the governing Liberals have repeatedly rebuffed.

The minister says the Liquor Control Board of Ontario is expanding its reach into grocery stores and adding more retail stores.

But he says he’ll always be looking at alternatives that would support the province’s economy.

Ontario is facing an $11.7-billion deficit, which the Liberals have promised to eliminate by 2017-18.

Sousa’s comments came after Mac’s Convenience Stores said it would create 1,600 full-time jobs if its Ontario stores were allowed to sell beer, wine and spirits.

The chain owned by Alimentation Couche-Tard (TSX:ATD.B) made a pitch for selling booze at its 547 stores in Ontario on Wednesday, saying it’s something continually asked for by customers.

A study commissioned by the Ontario Convenience Stores Association found that the Ontario government would receive increased revenues if alcohol sales were permitted in convenience stores.

Mac’s vice-president Tom Moher said sales at its two agency stores in Thamesford, Ont. and Craigleith that are allowed to sell alcohol have significantly higher sales and require more staff to handle the extra demand.

Retailers operate some 219 agency stores in communities without large enough population bases to support regular government-owned LCBO stores.

Moher said the private sector can build facilities to sell beer, wine and spirits, saving the LCBO from such endeavours.

The provincial Liberals announced a pilot program to sell liquor and wine in 10 grocery stores. The Crown corporation will set up Express stores later this year.

The LCBO turned over $1.65 billion to the province last year, excluding taxes.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak says the province should allow beer, wine and spirits to be sold in corner stores and has also floated the idea of selling part or all of the LCBO.

Quebec-based Couche-Tard operates 665 corporate stores in Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador, that sell beer. The company also sells beer at 3,000 stores in the United States, and 1,400 in Europe.

Couche-Tard is Canada’s largest convenience store operator and the second-largest in North America with more than $15.9 million in annual revenues and about 53,000 employees around the world.