Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has announced plans to begin selling alcohol in all supermarkets, convenience stores and gas stations in 2026.
Beer, wine and canned mixed drinks will all soon be available at those locations.
The plan was approved by cabinet on Tuesday and Thursday.
The major expected changes are allowing corner stores and gas stations to sell beer, wine, cider and premixed alcoholic beverages, also known as ready-to-drink, or RTD, products like seltzers.
It will also allow for all grocery stores to sell the same. Previously there had been a cap on the number of grocery stores that could have retail licences but that will be scrapped.
The province is also ending restrictions currently in place that only allow for the near-monopoly retailer the Beer Store to sell cases of beer in units of 12 and 24.
However, the changes won’t be implemented until Jan. 1, 2026, which is when the current provincial beer sales contract expires.
The contract, known as the Master Framework Agreement (MFA) was signed between the government and the various multinational brewing companies that own the Beer Store.
The Beer Store will be allowed to remain open after the contract is terminated.
“We’re going to be continuing to negotiate with the Beer Store and they’ll still play an important role in the whole system,” said Ford during a news conference last month.
In 2018, the Ford government made a promise to allow convenience stores and other retailers to sell beer and wine during their campaign, however the MFA put things on the back burner.
The MFA had been signed by the previous Liberal government under Kathleen Wynne, which capped the number of grocery stores permitted to sell beer and wine at 450 retail locations.
In 2019, the Ford government tabled a bill to scrap the MFA and the legislation passed.
However, the government never acted upon it because scrapping the agreement before it expired would cost the province financial penalties under the MFA’s terms. The money would have to be paid by the province to the breweries for an unspecified amount that could run as high as the hundreds of millions.
Numerous closed-door consultations were held with industry officials over the last year, attempting to find ways of “modernizing” Ontario’s alcohol sales regime.
All participants in the consultations were required to sign non-disclosure agreements but some industry sources have said that the Ontario government also plans to make changes in the taxation of wine and beer. However, they revealed no details regarding what those changes might look like.
They also said that a certain amount of shelf space at retail stores will have to be reserved for Ontario’s craft brewers as well as its small-scale wineries.
The policy changes will have no effect on the LCBO or any of its retail locations.
The Beer Store is expected to play a key role in distributing beer to the thousands of new locations at gas stations, supermarkets and convenience stores because of its already existing broad network for distribution.