OTTAWA — Quebec Premier François Legault’s attempt to cool a controversy that has been dubbed “popcorngate” surprised Vincenzo Guzzo, the president of largest chain of independent theatres in the province.
Legault announced Thursday that movie theatres would be compensated for lost snack sales due to provincial COVID-19 rules that will allow theatres to reopen, but not sell food in order to ensure patrons wear masks. The policy has forced some venues to temporarily close their doors.
“I did not ask him for anything,” Guzzo told HuffPost Canada. The Cinémas Guzzo boss said all he has wanted from the provincial government is for the right to run his business the way it’s supposed to be run, inclusive of concession sales.
Watch: Quebec announces minor changes to COVID-19 restrictions ahead of March break. Story continues below video.
Theatre operators have argued that it’s the sale of snacks and soft drinks that increase their profit margins, not movie tickets.
“The fact that he thought money was going to change everything, well, he was wrong because I’m not going to take public money for uneaten popcorn,” he said. “It’s just not — it’s never been in my philosophy.”
Earlier this week, Legault announced that stabilized COVID-19 cases means the province will move ahead and reopen movie theatres on Feb. 26, in time for March break — but they would not be allowed to operate concession stands.
That catch prompted Guzzo to speak out on social media and state he will not open his movie theatres across Quebec unless the sale of popcorn, snacks, and drinks is allowed.
Legault told reporters Thursday that Guzzo has been saying “not very nice” things about him over “popcorngate,” a controversy he said he could not have fathomed to be ensnared in a few months ago.
“I can understand that a part of the profit for the movie theatres is coming from popcorn so we want to open movie theatres for the school break, the March break, for the children,” Legault said.
“Mr. Guzzo said that he doesn’t want to open movie theatres, and he has many in Quebec, if we don’t permit him to sell popcorn,” he continued, adding that the sale of popcorn challenges public health advice to movie-goers to keep their face masks on during the entirety of a movie.
“So, what can I say?”
On Friday, provincial public health authorities released further details for reopening guidelines that may mark an end to the unusual controversy for now.
The guidelines apply to bars, restaurants, libraries and movie theatres as the province moves forward with easing some restrictions on Feb. 26.
They stipulate that movie theatres currently closed in red zones — the highest classification of public health restrictions including an 8 p.m. curfew — will be permitted to open. Movie theatres in orange zones have also been allowed to open.
The sale of food or any consumption in the theatre will not be allowed.
Guzzo told TVA Nouvelles that during spring break last year, his company made $1 million with 50 per cent of sales coming from movie tickets and 50 per cent from concession sales.
But after payments to movie distributors and creators, the profit from concessions sales was $425,000 compared to $200,000 from tickets.
Inadequate or unclear communication appears to have been a factor fuelling “popcorngate.”
Guzzo said if the recommendation to halt concession sales comes directly from public health officials, that’s advice he can respect.
He said public health had told his company the same rules from the summer would apply “with the only difference being that instead of wearing a face mask, you have to wear a procedural mask, and instead of no curfew hours, there’s a curfew now — that’s it.”
Guzzo called Legault’s offer to compensate his business concerning.
If the province thinks it’s legitimate to pay companies restricted from doing business in a way to maximize profit, then what about other industries struggling amid the pandemic, he wondered.
“What are you going to do with all those restaurants and all those other people you closed?”
With files from Christian Labarre-Dufresne