The debate over alcohol sales in convenience stores is once again brewing with the release of a petition from the Ontario Convenience Stores Association containing in excess of 112,000 signatures calling for the availability of wine and beer in corner stores.
The petition is supported by a Facebook campaign launched last year by the OCSA and its CEO, Dave Bryans, which can be found here.
This corner talked to Bryans on several occasions last year and he points out corner stores in more than 200 Ontario communities too small to support an LCBO outlet or a Beer Store now are authorized to sell alcohol.
It is worth noting the latter are owned by Labatt Brewing Company Ltd., Molson Coors Canada and Sleeman Breweries Ltd., with the first two conglomerates owned by multinationals InBev and Interbrew respectively.
Should you be able to visit a corner store in St. Thomas/Elgin to purchase alcohol, especially when some beer outlets close as early as 9 p.m. on Saturday and 5 p.m. on Sunday?
PC leader Tim Hudak wonders is the current system, dating back more than 70 years, still appropriate?
“I think any time you have a monopoly that means you don’t get the service (and) it’s more expensive than it would be otherwise,” Hudak told The Globe and Mail this week.
Have you signed the petition?
A move long overdue or might this lead to increased alcohol consumption and a further strain on our healthcare system?
We would love to hear your take on alcohol sales in convenience stores.
OUR READERS WRITE
C. Stobo at email@example.com continues the dialogue emanating from a column two weeks ago on union featherbedding.
He writes on our website: “Bob McCaig has raised very serious concerns, which are now increasingly common to Ontario as well as many other jurisdictions, particularly California and other states witnessing the “bankruptcy” of one city/municipality after another (four in California alone).
He continues: “In Ontario, the excessive public union labour contract pay/benefits contract decisions by arbitrators, for example, who have been applying Toronto police, fire and EMS contract awards/decisions broadly in arbitrations elsewhere, including York Regional Municipality, which is now in frightening substantial debt for one of the wealthiest regions in the province, along with other regions and municipalities.
“If this trend continues in public sector labour union contract negotiations and awards, as well as in management compensation and benefits decisions, we too will have municipalities in this province unable to hire sufficient staff or to acquire the stock to open, run and staff newly built police, library and other facilities.
Stobo goes on to advise: “With the anticipated vast increase in the numbers of baby-boomers hitting retirement age in municipalities and provincial government departments/agencies, boards and commissions shortly, this can no longer be ignored. When the anticipated retirements of those reaching 65 is combined with the vast numbers of police, fire, EMS, teachers and other public sector employees often eligible for retirement at 55 years, the magnitude of the problems being ignored by arbitrators involved in municipal, fire, EMS and police contract awards is astonishing.
“There is currently no need for arbitrators in such contract disputes to consider the municipality’s financial position and budgetary constraints. Similarly, municipal and provincial government proposals and approvals for the construction of more multi-million dollar new public facilities, in an economy that has slowed down and will continue to see low growth for a number of years, although providing temporary increases in construction jobs, will not be sustainable over the longer term as municipal and provincial government entities are required to contribute more and more to maintain salaries, pension and other benefit plans for current employees, since these plans will likely be unable to achieve the high investment returns they saw in the last two decades due to the current and predicted future economic conditions.”
For a further insight into the magnitude of this problem, it is well worth visiting the Association of Municipalities of Ontario website under issues – arbitration here
WERE WE EVEN IN THE GAME?
Some post-game sniping going on in London where city council’s decision to play hardball with Texas-based food-distribution giant Sysco came back to haunt it this week when the firm announced it will build a 400,000-square-foot distribution facility in Woodstock which could eventually employ 250-350 people.
That prompted reader Bill Sandison to muse on the T-J’s Facebook page: “London may have blown it, but was the St. Thomas brain trust (Economic Development Corp. and city council) even in the game? If not, why not?“
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“The mall is suffering and people are trying to make a livelihood over there. We’re not making money any more. This is a matter of just salvaging a situation. I figure something like this would help the town and, at the same time, bring traffic to our mall so it might help the tenants.”
SmartCentres leasing representative Adam Samuel on a proposal to move the ODSP office from its present location on Talbot Street to Elgin Mall in an effort to maintain a local office for St. Thomas/Elgin clients.
City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Re: Bob McCaig “Union Featherbedding” and Responses
I wish to clarify a couple of the comments in the previous response I forwarded regarding Mr. McCaig’s concerns about union negotiations and awards to ensure accuracy.
Arbitrators have been using provincial OPP contract decisions/awards and Toronto/GTA police, fire and EMS decisions/awards in making decisions on police, fire and EMS arbitrations elsewhere in the province. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario “Backgrounder” raises a number of concerns regarding the significance of this tendency and the impacts on municipalities and ratepayers throughout the province. The AMO Backgrounder notes
“Emergency services workers- police and firefighters- are valued municipal employees who ensure the community health and safety in all Ontario municipalities. Because these essential workers are not allowed to strike, the collective bargaining process relies on arbitration to resolve differences if a settlement can’t be reached. However, the current arbitration process is not a level playing field for municipalities. These inequities cast a shadow over all collective bargaining with emergency services:
• Many arbitrators do not take into account the economic circumstances of a local municipality and its ability to pay, despite legislation that requires them to do so.
• Awards are often based on comparisons to provincial, not regional, emergency services. This is particularly difficult for small, rural and northern Ontario municipalities who do not have the tax base of large urban centres.
• Recruitment and retention awards that were introduced within the Greater Toronto Area have been awarded throughout all of Ontario, driving up costs and defeating their purpose.
In 2010, the Ontario Government called on municipalities to restrain wage and benefit increases, without providing any tools to do so. Then they awarded the Ontario Provincial Police a 5% wage increase for 2011, followed by a two year freeze, and a top-up commitment in 2014 to ensure the OPP was the best paid police service in Ontario. This rich settlement has driven up costs and expectations among municipal emergency service employees.
As a result of arbitration awards, emergency services costs across Ontario are rising faster than other municipal services, the cost of living and the rate of inflation. For example, a 2011 arbitration award for Fort Frances firefighters gave a 16% increase over four-years, more benefits, and recognition (retention) pay. To make ends meet, Fort Frances cut two of its eight professional firefighters. The bottom line is that disproportionate increases stretch municipal budgets, drawing funding away from other vital programs and services.
AMO is urgently pressing for several simple improvements to the arbitration process:
• Require arbitrators to actively consider a municipality’s ability to pay, including the local economy, impact on taxpayers and the impact on other services if the municipality cannot fund the arbitrators’ decision.
• Ensure timely resolution of awards. Thunder Bay recently concluded an arbitration that took seven years.
• Ensure arbitrators provide a rationale for the award.”
Municipal budgets and planning for roads, water, sewer, transit, planning, library, recreation and other important services and, in the end, the property tax base and taxpayers are and will continue to bear the full costs of increases in pay/salaries and benefit plans for one segment of workers. In municipalities in the Elgin and Middlesex area, along with countless other Ontario municipalities subjected to a significant slow-down within the manufacturing/industrial sectors, it only stands to reason that adjustments will be required either in the form of lay-offs of police, fire and emergency workers, or other classes of workers, or through increases in the residential and commercial tax class rates or ratios to make up the difference.
The time has come for the provincial government to take concrete steps to ensure municipalities are able to keep control over their own budgets. Arbitrators are not elected and are not answerable to the electorate or ratepayers every 4 years for their decisions, which in many municipalities are clearly having or will have an enormous impact on their ability to provide essential, required and all other expected municipal services. In my view this problem cannot be attributed to one provincial political party or another. It has been growing for many years and has been exacerbated by the understandable post-9/11 concerns and resulting movement toward ever-increasing emergency preparedness and recognition of potential serious hazards to emergency workers.
If a concrete review is not commenced and steps taken to address these problems, it is not unlikely that substantial lay-offs of police, fire, emergency and many other workers along with enormous cutbacks in the services municipalities have always been expected to provide will result.
The question then is do Ontarians want to see municipalities in parts of this province end up in a position akin to some cities in California and elsewhere in the U.S.? The private sector including commercial businesses, industry and residential property taxpayers are simply no longer able to support the increases in taxes necessary to sustain such a service framework, leaving reductions in essential services and cutbacks in other services as the only option.
Ontario can step up it’s underage surveillance of convenience. Taxes from the sale of alcohol in corner stores will necessitate proper inspection. Also, In no way will it affect people at risk for its abuse, or make any areas ‘more dangerous.’ Substances like alcohol make one go the extra mile to obtain it. The law must be fair and reflect the wishes of the constituents.
The petition in support of corner store alcohol sales was distributed in 220 communities across Ontario, including Toronto, London, Niagara, Ottawa, Peterborough, North Bay, St. Catharines and Guelph over four weeks in late 2011.