TORONTO - Ontario's convenience stores launched another bid Wednesday for permission to sell beer and wine, and found at least one party leader willing to consider the idea.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association released a petition with 112,500 signatures gathered across the province supporting the idea of broader retail availability of beer and wine.
"Ontarians have spoken very clearly and they are not happy with the antiquated alcohol retailing system we have in Ontario," said association CEO Dave Bryans.
"They're responsible adults who want the simple convenience of leaving the car at home and walking to their neighbourhood store to get wine for dinner or drinks for the barbecue."
The petition was started by Joanne McMurchy, who runs the General Store in the hamlet of Vanessa, south of Brantford, where some of the 80 local residents complained they have to drive 20 minutes to get to a liquor store.
"My customers were persistently asking...was there any chance that beer would come to the store," McMurchy said at a press conference.
"So I decided that I would take people's names down that had requested this persistently over the past couple of years and then made up this petition."
Former Liberal premier David Peterson promised to allow corner stores to sell beer and wine in the 1980s, but it never happened, and the current Liberal government has no plans to change the rules.
"The current system balances access for both customers and suppliers with social responsibility," said Aly Vitunski, press secretary for Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.
"We take the concerns of convenience store owners seriously, but we believe the current system of selling liquor is an effective way to guard the public interest."
The LCBO turned over a record $1.63 billion dividend to the Ontario government for 2010-11 after sales of $4.7 billion.
The Progressive Conservatives said Wednesday it was time the province re-examined its role in the liquor business.
"Are the old solutions from the 1930s and '40s that the government should run the alcohol business in the province from top to bottom appropriate in the 21st century," asked PC Leader Tim Hudak.
The NDP has consistently opposed the sale of beer and wine in corner stores.
"The LCBO can always be improved but it’s a pretty good system that provides a good service, protects minors from alcohol and contributes over $1.5 billion every year to running our schools and our hospitals," said NDP critic Rosario Marchese.
"I think our priority should be making the system work better, not new schemes that make it easier for young people to get their hands on alcohol."
The last Conservative government talked about privatizing the LCBO but never followed through with the idea, while the Liberals too toyed with some sort of privatization before rejecting it.
Hudak said the Tories dropped the idea in the 1990s because the LCBO extended its hours and started opening on Sundays, but admitted the idea of competition from corner stores has some appeal.
"I’ve been a long proponent of some kind of choice in the system," he said.
"I think any time you have a monopoly that means you don’t get the service (and) it’s more expensive than it would be otherwise," Hudak said.
Convenience stores already sell alcohol in 214 Ontario communities that are too small for a regular LCBO outlet or a Beer Store, said Bryans.
"It makes no sense to anyone, and it's actually just total control," he said.
"Those that live in bigger centres suffer the most and those in rural communities can go to local convenience store and buy their alcohol beverage, and we do a very good job in those communities."
Corner stores already sell age-restricted products, including tobacco and lottery tickets, and would implement even tougher standards if they get approval to sell beer and wine, said Bryans.
"We are the biggest seller of age restricted products...much bigger than any government-controlled agency," he said.
"And we actually do a better job at age testing."