08/09/2012 10:25 EDT | Updated 10/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Liquor should be sold outside LCBO, say Ontario PCs

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives continue to put pressure on the governing Liberals to allow beer and wine to be sold at privately run commercial outlets, despite a lack of appetite from the premier for any change.

PC finance critic Peter Shurman said the current system, where most people can only buy beer and liquor at government-run LCBO outlets or beer stores, is antiquated.

"I think it's time to re-examine the fact that we have a monopolistic system that sells us our beer and our wine," said Shurman in an interview with Metro Morning on Thursday.

The Tories' push on the matter comes after the Ontario Convenience Stores Association presented the government with a petition signed by 112,500 people from across the province supporting the idea of broader retail availability of beer and wine. PC Leader Tim Hudak at the time urged the government to act and change the system.

Shurman said although convenience stores owners have a stake in the matter, the Tories keep hearing a desire for change in conversations they've been having with voters across the province. A change would bring about several benefits for the province, Shurman said.

"Number one, it creates jobs. Number two, it creates an availability that's much more broad. Number three, it stimulates competition, because when you have private people involved, they're going to look at a broader brand base," he said.

McGuinty rejected the Tory proposal and said the Liberals feel Ontario is a safer place if liquor sales are done by the government-owned LCBO.

"We believe it's a system that enables us to provide greatest guarantee to moms and dads that when a 16-year-old or 17-year-old shows up to buy beer or some liquor, that we have the necessary measures in place to ferret them out and deny them access to alcoholic beverages," McGuinty said on Wednesday.

"So that's the choice we're making. We think it's safe, we think it's secure."

Premier 'has to budge on a lot of things'

Shurman dismissed that argument.

"Give me a break. This is a man who would rather flush our money down Ornge toilets or pay for power stations that aren't being built than listen to somebody who wants to have a beer," he said.

Beer and wine is already being sold privately at over 200 Ontario communities deemed too small or remote to host an LCBO or Beer store, said Shurman.

"Somehow or other I'm supposed to believe that 16- and 17-year-olds are being protected, and in a city like Toronto for example, we have to worry about them? I'm not following the logic," he said.

The Tories are bringing up the issue in order to stimulate debate about a change that the public would like to see, said Shurman.

"The premier is in a position where he has to budge on a lot of things. He's in a minority situation. We're not trying to ram this through. It's not our number one priority, but it's something that Ontarians, we believe, want."

Former Liberal premier David Peterson promised to allow corner stores to sell beer and wine in the 1980s, but it never happened.

The New Democrats have consistently opposed the idea.

Various Tory and Liberal governments in Ontario have toyed with the idea of selling off part or all of the LCBO, but none has ever followed through with the idea.

The Conservatives said they want to review more than 600 provincial agencies, boards and commissions, including the LCBO, to see if each is still needed.

Tories unimpressed with LCBO expansion plans

Meanwhile, The Canadian Press reported Wednesday that the Tories say the LCBO's plans to spend $100 million over the next two years to build about 70 new stores should be cancelled.

But they insisted they were not talking about selling off the agency that turned over $1.6 billion to the government last year.

The LCBO said there is a solid business case for its expansion plans.

"No major capital investment is made unless the LCBO is sure that it will get a 12 per cent return on its investment," said LCBO spokeswoman Julie Rosenberg.

"LCBO analysis estimates those new stores will have an economic spin off benefit of about $120 million and generate about 740 direct and indirect jobs."