A War of Words

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A War of Words

TORONTO, Ontario -- Sparks are flying up north between Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and the province's convenience store operators, to the point where a retail association is insisting its members receive an apology for harsh words from McGuinty.

The catalyst was a critical report released in late March by Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin on the status of the government-run Ontario Lottery Gaming Corp. (OLG). The report found instances of fraud at retailers such as convenience stores, where employees falsely claimed lottery jackpots, CSNews Online reported at the time. In addition, it was found that the OLG did not conduct research into the winning claims, resulting in retailers winning jackpots more than was statistically possible. To read CSNews Online's coverage of the report, click here.

Using that report as evidence, McGuinty opposed a bill that would allow wine and beer to be sold in convenience stores in the province, reported the Canadian Press.

The private member's bill was introduced to relax rules governing the sale of beer and wine made in the province, and was supported by convenience store owners, who stated they need the new market to survive and compete with grocery stores, the report stated.

McGuinty stated he couldn't support the bill given recent allegations shop clerks have defrauded the lottery system by claiming an inordinate number of prizes.

"It's much easier to maintain security through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the Beer Store than to give that power to thousands of convenience stores," McGuinty said. "Just look at the business with the OLG."

In response, Dave Bryans, president of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, wrote a letter to McGuinty asking for an apology to the industry he represents.

"There are over 10,000 convenience stores in Ontario. They're owned and operated by some of the largest companies in this country and some of the hardest-working new Canadian families in Ontario," he wrote. "That's why when you said yesterday that none of these people or companies can be trusted, we were shocked and disappointed by your remarks."

The letter goes on to say that convenience stores and their 140,000 employees sell more age-restricted products -- tobacco, lottery, fireworks, magazine, movies, games and alcohol -- than any other channel in Canada.

The sale of alcohol is permitted in more then 200 locations in the province that follow the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s (LCBO) agency store model. "At each of these locations, conscientious convenience store clerks sell beer, wine and spirits at standards that meet or exceed those of the LCBO itself," the letter stated.

In addition, 2,500 Ontario convenience stores are adopting "We Expect ID" zero-tolerance program for age verification, which uses a card reader to identify the age of the customer by swiping their license. "It's a program that's been widely praised and has the stamp of approval from Ontario's Privacy Commissioner," he stated. "We are hoping that in light of your comments … you will see the benefits of joining us and supporting the strictest program to keep all age-restricted products out of the hands of youth."

The letter concludes with:

"Mr. Premier, you made your remarks about convenience stores by referencing the OLG controversy. The convenience store industry is a steward for the lottery business in Ontario. … Without question, the actions of corrupt individuals, whether they be at convenience stores, grocery stores or elsewhere, are inexcusable. … But to tar all the companies and 140,000 hard-working people that run convenience stores with the shortcomings highlighted by the Ombudsman, is simply unfair.

"We hope that you'll take some time to reconsider your comments and give both corporate Canada and the many family-run convenience stores across this province an apology and commit your government to working with us on programs like 'We Expect ID' to make Ontario the world leader when it comes to the responsible sale of age-restricted products."