Will 2015 be the year of change?

ContractCan you feel that? It’s the winds of change blowing across the country.

With what some might call antiquated liquor laws spread out across every province and territory, it seems that the political climate is finally starting to change all over the Great White North. And although there have recently been calls in several provinces for changes to old systems of distribution and sales, it’s Ontario and the monopoly of Brewers Retail that has brought the issue to a head.

As an explanation for those not familiar with the Ontario distribution system, Brewers Retail operates The Beer Store, a virtual monopoly for selling beer in anything greater than a six-pack across the province. Owned by a trio of foreign-owned companies, The Beer Store has come under fire time again for its practices that make it difficult for small brewers to get in on its province-wide distribution system.

Many Ontarians believe The Beer Store, like LCBO retail outlets, is a government-owned organization, but with The Toronto Star releasing details about a deal between the LCBO and The Beer Store, it seems real change in Ontario laws regarding alcohol distribution may be forthcoming.

Take last week’s historic announcement from The Beer Store that immediately opened up ownership of the retail and distribution organization to Ontario craft brewers.

“Today marks a new era for the Beer Store. We heard from Ontario brewers that they wanted to participate in the management of the Beer Store and contribute to its future success. That’s why we’re opening up the system and making it even more transparent,” said Stewart Glendinning, CEO of Molson Coors Canada, in a statement.

“The Beer Store is truly becoming Ontario-owned. Ontario brewers will be represented on the board and share in decision-making. All owners will have the same or better costs to sell in the Beer Store than the current owners,” said Jan Craps, president of Labatt Breweries Canada, in a statement.

“We welcome and support the direction of the changes being announced today. These will help improve the transparency and openness of The Beer Store for all Ontario brewers, including Sleeman, and will allow our input into the evolution of the system,” said John Sleeman, chairman and founder of Sleeman Breweries, in a statement.

In some ways, microbreweries are finally getting what they want, but since the January 7 announcement, several small breweries in the province have thumbed their noses at The Beer Store for what can be perceived as a last-chance tactic to keep its decades-old monopoly in place. Essentially, it’s too little, too late.

Instead, microbreweries are calling for true change — a system that does not rely on a monopoly controlled by The Beer Store and the three foreign companies that own it.

As 2015 begins, it seems like change is coming to Canadian liquor laws — and not just in Ontario. Similar calls for change are being heard in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

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