Corner stores to remain a booze-free zone

TORONTO — Ontario convenience stores won’t be selling booze any time soon, despite a survey that suggests they are better at policing the sale of restricted products to minors than alcohol retailers.

Attorney General Chris Bentley recently loosened liquor laws in the province, but he said Monday those changes won’t go so far as to allow corner stores to sell liquor or beer.

The Convenience Stores Association, which commissioned the survey, simply “wants something that they don’t currently the right to have,’’ said Bentley. “I’m not convinced by the survey that’s been produced, given what it was produced to do.’’

The study found one in four minors left the LCBO with alcohol, while The Beer Store served one in five. One in eight underage shoppers successfully purchased cigarettes from convenience stores.

While they admitted they’d like to be able to sell liquor, the convenience stores also said the goal of their study wasn’t to convince the province that they should get a shot at doing so.

“Let’s be honest, convenience stores always wanted beer and wine, but that’s not what it was about,’’ said Dave Bryans, president of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association. “We did this study to measure how well we’re doing our job of keeping age-restricted products away from minors compared to the government-run LCBO and the foreign-owned Beer Store.’’

The LCBO said its staff challenged 3.6 million people who appeared to be underage or intoxicated, while nearly 193,000 people were refused service.

“At the LCBO we have zero incentive to sell to a minor, because not making a sale is not that important,’’ said spokesman Chris Layton. “If you’re a smaller private retailer, with a smaller profit margin, maybe you won’t be so quick to refuse a sale.’’

Beer Store spokesman Jeff Newton said his company did more than four million challenges each year.

“We’re very confident in (our system),’’ Newton said. “It’s a core value.’’

The Association, however, stuck by its study, which tested 105 of the LCBO’s 611 stores, 98 of The Beer Store’s 440 stores and 93 chain convenience stores.

Bentley may have made it clear that the Liberal government isn’t going to give convenience stores the right to sell booze, said Bryans, but that may not hold true after the Oct. 6 provincial election.

“Hopefully, if there’s a new government there will be someone to sit and talk to in an open context and brag about the things we’ve done right,’’ he said.

The Tories didn’t include any plans to expand liquor sales in their campaign platform, released over the weekend.

Progressive Conservative Christine Elliott said Monday her party’s main focus was on marketing Ontario wines, but added the Tories weren’t ruling anything out.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her party wouldn’t be looking to change liquor laws if elected.

“In Ontario it doesn’t seem to be a place where most people want to go,’’ she said.“I don’t see a big change being demanded by the people of Ontario.’’

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