The OCSA recently spoke at Queen’s Park to lobby on behalf of small businesses across the province. We were pleased to discuss some of the most pertinent issues facing our sector with Ontario’s small business minister Jeff Leal. Below is a letter that we received back from the Ministry, recapping the conversation.
Dear Mr. Bryans:
It was a pleasure to meet with you and your members and to participate in the annual Ontario Convenience Store Association (OCSA) Queen’s Park Lobby day last week. I wanted to take this opportunity to also thank you for clearly and constructively discussing the key policy issues facing your membership.
As more convenience stores close each year – and you indicated there have been 148 closures thus far in 2018 – finding ways to generate traffic is of great importance to your members. In particular, our discussion focused on handling of age-restricted products, looking to the LCBO agency model for learnings on beer and wine sales expansion, and improving lottery commissions.
I noted your specific interest in providing a level-playing field for those businesses and outlets that handle age-restricted products such as tobacco and lottery. Your “Smart Age” proposal, modeled on the successful “Smart Serve” training program for retail alcohol, is one that we have worked across government to move forward.
As a result, I am pleased to let you know that, in partnership with staff from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, we have agreed that to further protect youth from accessing certain products, the Province will work with stakeholders to explore and evaluate the feasibility and impacts of an age verification training program for retail staff, store owners and managers who may have to handle age-restricted products such as tobacco.
I note that Smart Age proposes to finance its programming, for the first three years, by raising the tobacco tax on a carton of cigarettes by fifty cents, after which Smart Age would be self-sustainable. Given that the 2017 Budget has raised the tobacco tax on a carton of cigarettes by four dollars, I have asked my colleague, Minister Sousa, in partnership with Minister Jaczek, to investigate whether the proposed funding model for Smart Age is one that the Province is able to consider. Convenience stores have a strong track record of keeping age-restricted products out of the hands of minors, and I commend you for persisting in moving your proposal forward.
With respect to our other areas of discussion, I am asking my colleague, the Minister of Finance, to engage with you on the following important matters:
- Craft beer sales: we have previously noted OCSA’s disappointment with the government’s decision not to allow convenience store sto sell beverage alcohol. In our most recent meeting, however, you advocated for an expansion of the LCBO agency model, one that works quite well in rural areas of the province. You also noted that agency locations even accept empty cans and bottles for recycling, the only LCBO locations in Ontario that accept recycling returns. And you proposed, as a first step, that the agency model could be expanded to more convenience stores to allow the sale for craft better, further supporting this burgeoning sector of small businesses.
- Cannabis-related accessories and products: although the sale of cannabis was not a major focal point of our meeting, you did raise the convenience store sector’s concern that the LCBO, through the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, would be competing with convenience stores when it comes to the sale of cannabis-related accessories and products.
- OLG lottery commissions: at the moment, convenience stores receive 8% of scratch ticket sales, but only 5% of electronic lottery sales. Your proposal is to increase the 5% commission on the sale of electronic lottery tickets to 8% so that it will be the same as scratch tickets. You also noted that other jurisdictions in Canada have non-commission means through which to incentivize and compensate retails, such as sharing prize money and alternate invoicing systems.
Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me, and for the work you and your members do across the province of Ontario each and every day. I look forward to continuing to work together on your priority issues, and to make Ontario the best place in the world to live, work and play.