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Province mulls booze sales in grocery, convenience stores

“We have to acknowledge that prohibition is over,” says Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction Minister Dale Nally.

Beer, wine and possibly even spirits may be coming to a convenience store near you, if Premier Danielle Smith gets her way.

Last month Smith expressed support for allowing convenience and grocery stores to sell liquor. The suggestion came shortly after Ontario’s Doug Ford approved the sale of some booze in these stores by 2026.

Smith tasked Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction Minister Dale Nally with investigating the feasibility of the move.

Nally, MLA for Morinville-St. Albert, said Albertans shouldn’t expect to pick up a bottle of Prosecco at 7-Eleven next week.

“It’s early days,” Nally said. “We’re just in the engagement process right now. We're listening to Albertans … some absolutely love the idea, and some want more information.”

Nally couldn’t point to an exact date when he and Smith began discussions around liberating alcohol from the confines of liquor store shelves. But he suggested that the province has been mulling it over since the fall.

“Two months after the last election [Smith] gave me the AGLC file,” he said. “It’s not a secret why we’re giving the AGLC file to the minister responsible for reducing red tape.”

Liquor stores could increase the variety of products they sell if the province allows booze sales at other retail spots, Nally said.

“I think it has to go both ways.”

While many countries regulate the time of day retailers can sell liquor, few are as stringent as most Canadian provinces about where it can be sold.

“We have to acknowledge that prohibition is over,” Nally said. “We first touched on this when we allowed beer to be consumed in parks … some people celebrated it, and other people said, ‘There's going to be rowdiness, and it's going to encourage poor behaviour.’ The fact is, I've had a number of conversations with individuals, and Albertans are very well-behaved. This has not presented any problems in our parks.”

Provinces dictate regulations around the sale of alcohol, and each province varies in its degree of leniency. In Quebec, for example, grocery and convenience stores can sell beer and some wines, whereas Nova Scotia permits sales only at provincially owned liquor stores, private specialty shops and manufacturer retail stores.

In 2021, a handful of 7-Eleven stores in Alberta started selling some alcoholic beverages.

Nally said he has not seen evidence that allowing liquor sales at the 7-Eleven locations affected sales at nearby liquor stores.

The Alberta Liquor Store Association (ALSA) did not say whether they have received complaints from alcohol retailers near those 7-Eleven locations; however, Ivonne Martinez, ALSA's president, said the organization does not support the move. 

"There is no need to allow liquor to be sold where minors have access to these products," Martinez said in an email. "Hundreds of independent liquor businesses have spent thousands setting up their liquor stores, up to $750,000, and by changing the laws it would make for an unfair level playing field ... Alberta has the best system of liquor retailing in the country. Let's keep it that way."

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