August 3, 2017
The Honourable Kathleen Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A1
Dear Premier Wynne,
The LCBO has closed its outlet in Larder Lake. I am writing to you directly because the Minister of Finance has not responded to any of my enquiries to date.
The closure of the Larder Lake LCBO outlet is of significant concern to my constituents and myself, as the Larder Lake economy relies heavily on seasonal tourism. The area is dotted with many campgrounds and lodges which provide employment opportunities for many of Larder Lake’s permanent residents.
Despite the troubling circumstances under which the LCBO has closed the Larder Lake outlet store without providing any advance notice to the community, the residents of Larder Lake have tried to work with the LCBO to develop an alternative option, to no avail. Residents are especially concerned that the tourists and residents will be forced to travel outside of the community to purchase alcoholic beverages; in turn, people may choose to purchase other needed supplies while out of town. As the town relies on a single, co-operatively run grocery store, the potential for under-cutting of a local business is a real and significant concern.
In response to the LCBO outlet closure, I have written to the President of LCBO, Mr. George Soleas. While Mr. Soleas responded to my inquiry, his response contained a statement that raises several questions. Mr Soleas wrote, “There are other areas in the province that are underserviced where we can better allocate resources. While it is not as convenient, Larder Lake residents can purchase beverage alcohol in Kirkland Lake and Englehart or online at LCBO.com.”
While ordering alcoholic beverages online can be a viable option for events that are planned in advance (such as pre-planned family gatherings), it is an unrealistic option for more spontaneous events. For example, ordering a case of beer online when your friends have just dropped by for a visit is not realistic, due to lack of access to both internet services, and timely delivery services. Given that so few Northerners have access to the internet at all, it is evident that the Ontario Government’s LCBO business strategy is out of touch with the reality of infrastructure deficiencies in rural and Northern Ontario.
As of early 2016, your government changed legislation to allow the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores, located in urban centers. In a press release dated February 18, 2016 you state that availability of alcoholic beverages in urban grocery stores leads to “a win-win-win scenario, (with) more choice and greater convenience”. However, Mr. Soleas’ response acknowledges that forcing people to travel at least 25 kilometers to purchase alcoholic beverages is not as convenient as having a local bricks-and-mortar location. This discrepancy in access to alcoholic beverage purchase opportunities throughout all of Ontario leads me to ask whether your administration is solely concerned about convenience for consumers in urban Southern Ontario?
Furthermore, the LCBO has provided written acknowledgment of requiring Larder Lake residents to now travel more than 25 kilometers to the next LCBO store. I am greatly concerned that the closure of the Larder Lake LCBO outlet store sets a precedent, or is even perhaps part of the LCBO’s long term strategy. It is unclear at this time whether there is an active policy to force the closure of all smaller LCBO outlet and/or agency stores within 25 kilometers of a larger LCBO location. If so, then many more outlets in my riding, and throughout rural Ontario, are at risk. Can you confirm whether this is indeed the case?
Though I fully support the LCBO model, its status as a Crown Agency should obligate the LCBO to provide equitable access to Ontarians throughout the province. Abandoning the people of Larder Lake, and possibly other villages and towns in rural and Northern Ontario, does not fulfill that mandate. The ongoing removal of government services from small towns is quickly widening the rural-urban divide, and further eroding public confidence in the current provincial government.
In an effort to ensure the survival of Larder Lake’s tourism economy, it is my hope that you will ensure prompt action is taken to provide on-site LCBO services as soon as possible.
I look forward to receiving your response, as well as that of the Finance Minister.
John Vanthof, MPP Timiskaming-Cochrane