The union representing approximately 7,000 Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) employees has launched a public awareness campaign alerting Ontarians to the dangers of permitting alcohol sales in grocery stores.
Warren Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) in Toronto, said the two radio ads, “Impaired” and “Street Corner,” are intended to provoke public debate around the Wynne government’s decision to permit wine and beer sales in up to 450 grocery stores, some as early as this year.
“We don’t think Kathleen Wynne has done her homework,” Thomas told Marketing‘s sister publication Canadian Grocer. “We’ve done polling and focus groups, and there are people opposed to the widening sale of alcohol; their concern is the appropriate social safeguards.
“The [LCBO] is about control, not retail,” he added. “We’re afraid that the control part will be lost – she’s addressed none of the issues about how [grocery stores] would ensure safety.”
The approximately $250,000 campaign will include ads running on radio stations throughout the Greater Toronto Area and cottage country on holiday weekends. OPSEU has approximately $1 million earmarked for a campaign that could expand to include print media, said Thomas.
Both ads inform listeners that when the new regulations take effect, there will be more places to buy alcohol in Ontario than there are to purchase a Tim Hortons “double double.”
The “Impaired” ad also references Alberta, which privatized the sale of beer, wine and spirits in 1993. The ad says that in Alberta, it is now three-and-a-half times more likely that the people drivers pass coming out of a grocery store parking lot are driving drunk. It concludes with the voiceover “Do you want to make that kind of a trade-off in Ontario: a little bit of convenience for a whole lot of pain and suffering?”
According to Statistics Canada, Alberta averaged 449.8 police-reported impaired driving incidents per 100,000 people in 2011, while Ontario had the fewest (129.6 per 100,000 people). The national average was 262.
However, alcohol sales in the provinces and territories with the highest number of reported impaired driving incidents – the Northwest Territories (1,463.1), Yukon Territories (943.3) and Saskatchewan (683.3) – are all governed by a provincial liquor board.
Thomas said that one of the group’s main concerns is that grocery employees will not be properly equipped to deal with clearly intoxicated consumers demanding to purchase alcohol. “That’s what happens in beer and liquor stores and [employees] say, ‘No, you’re not having it.’ But it’s going to be quite a different matter if it happens in a grocery store packed with people,” he said.
According to OPSEU, LCBO employees refused service to more than 400,000 people deemed underage or intoxicated last year.
OPSEU is not the only organization opposed to looser restrictions around the sale of alcohol products in Ontario. In a 2014 report entitled “Provincial Liquor Boards: Meeting the Best Interests of Canadians,” the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving wrote: “We believe that replacing the provincial liquor board system with a privatized system of retail alcohol sales will increase alcohol-related problems and carry substantial human, social and economic costs.”