Ontario’s Liberal government is planning to allow liquor sales in grocery stores — but only through the existing liquor monopoly.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced Tuesday the province is launching a pilot project that will see seven "LCBO Express" locations open in grocery stores across the province, for a trial run that will last a year. The stores will sell beer, wine and spirits.
Stores will have to apply to have one of the kiosks installed, and the government will select from among the applicants. Any store that wants to participate will need at least 2,000 square feet of space to devote to the store-within-a-store.
Some observers have suggested the move amounts to jockeying for position ahead of an expected provincial election. Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has said he supports privatization of Ontario’s liquor retail distribution.
The governing Liberals have repeatedly rejected privatization, but hinted at an expansion of LCBO locations in late 2012.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association, an industry group that has been pushing for an end to the LCBO and Beer Store monopolies, said the provincial Liberals' move isn't enough.
"While it is refreshing to see the Ontario government agree that more convenience is needed in alcohol retailing, the elephant that's still in the room is the 87-year-old foreign-owned Beer Store and the near monopoly it still has on beer retailing," CEO Dave Bryans said in a statement.
"The handful of kiosks planned in this pilot program aren't likely to go far enough to satisfy the demands of consumers," he added.
This story has been updated from its original version. It has been edited to include details of Minister Sousa's statement and response from the Ontario Convenience Stores Association.