TORONTO — Ontario’s chamber of commerce says the province should expand online alcohol sales, cut taxes for some wine producers and bolster efforts to curb social harms as it liberalizes booze laws.The chamber makes the recommendations in a report today about the future of beer, wine, cider, and spirits sales — called Refreshing the Sale of Beverage Alcohol in Ontario.The report says the province has a “patchwork” of policies and regulations it should modernize as it expands alcohol sales to new retail stores.The chamber says beverage alcohol producers should be permitted to sell their products on e-commerce marketplaces using third parties to process payments, which is currently not permitted.It also says taxes should be cut on Ontario wines and taxes for craft cider producers should be aligned with those who make craft beer.The report comes on the same day as a study published that suggests alcohol-related health problems are posing a growing burden on Ontario emergency rooms.The chamber report also recommends bolstering public education campaigns about the long-term health risks associated with alcohol consumption.Premier Doug Ford promised during last year’s election campaign to make beer and wine available in corner stores, grocery stores and big box stores.Chamber president Rocco Rossi says Ontarians want to see those “substantive reforms” to complex alcohol laws and that can benefit the province if its done right.“The province can unleash the potential of the beverage alcohol sector, support regional economic development, meet the needs of today’s consumer, and generate greater tax revenue to fund the public services on which Ontarians rely,” he said in a statement.The report recommends a further expansion of alcohol sales that would see Ontario spirits and craft beer producers allowed to sell their products at farmers markets.The chamber says airports should be provided with liquor law exemptions that allow them to sell alcohol 24 hours a day in “post-security areas for both international and domestic passengers.”The province has considered booze liberalization a number of times since the 1960s and that has resulted in a disjointed system of rules and regulations, the chamber says.“A comprehensive approach to reform is needed to avoid further reinforcing inequities driven by regulatory burden and a patchwork of policy decisions to date,” the report says.Along with promising to expand beer and wine sales, the Progressive Conservative government has loosened rules around alcohol consumption in the province in their spring budget.Ontario will now allow bars, restaurants, and golf courses to start serving alcohol at 9 a.m., seven days a week, and is promising consultations on a further increase in hours of services in the future.The government will also let municipalities establish rules about where booze can be consumed in public, such as in some parks. Regulations are also changing to allow tailgating parties near sports events across the province.
The fourth round of direct talks between the two sides, held in Vienna under the auspices of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for the future status of Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, centred on the creation of new municipalities, particularly those with a Kosovo-Serb majority, and their boundaries. “I am an optimist by nature; it doesn’t mean that I am naïve,” Mr. Ahtisaari’s deputy Albert Rohan, who chaired the talks, told a news briefing when asked how he felt the negotiations were progressing. “I think we have to be optimistic. We don’t only believe in the intelligence of people but also in the wisdom of people and therefore I am realistically optimistic.” Decentralization is only one of many issues in the talks. Independence and autonomy are among options that have been mentioned for the province, where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1. Serbia rejects independence and Kosovo’s Serbs have been boycotting the province’s provisional institutions.Mr. Rohan said the delegations found “some range of agreement” on the issue of municipalities, but while the Kosovo side proposed three new municipalities and the extension of an existing one, the Serbians wanted 14 new ones and the extension of five existing municipalities. “We have to continue to work with the two sides on these two proposals,” Mr. Rohan said, noting that the issue would no longer be discussed at the Vienna talks. “There are many open questions and we are going to resume the work directly with each side separately and try to get compromise solutions.”To that purpose he will lead a delegation to Belgrade, the Serbian capital, on 16 May, and then go on to the Kosovo capital of Pristina on 18 May. The next direct talks in Vienna scheduled 23 May will focus on the protection of cultural and religious sites. One of the complicating factors on decentralization is how to include possible return of scores of thousands of Serbian who fled earlier violence but have not yet come back. “On the one hand nobody wants to create ‘ghost municipalities’ in the hope that somebody may come,” Mr. Rohan said. “On the other hand, there is a very real possibility – and it is the hope of the international community – that the maximum of people will indeed return.”