By 2014, some Ontarians could be buying their New Year's champagne at the local grocery store.
On Monday, the Ontario government announced it will be introducing two new formats of LCBO stores: LCBO Express, which will sell liquor, wine, and beer in "large grocery stores"; and VQA Destination Boutiques, which will open in existing full-size LCBO outlets and offer a selection of Ontario wines.
According to a press release from the ministry of finance, the LCBO will "immediately begin to explore options for these new store formats," with the goal of opening them within the next 12 to 18 months.
Ten locations will be chosen to host a pilot project of the LCBO Express format, while five VQA Destination Boutiques are in the works. The stores will be staffed by LCBO employees, and placed "in areas with growing demand but a somewhat underserviced market," according to the ministry.
The release, which was sent out as New Year's revelers flock to crowded liquor stores across the province, said the two new formats will cater to customer demand for greater convenience, help promote Ontario wineries, and increase LCBO revenues.
"Ontarians have been asking for more convenience in where they purchase alcohol beverages," Finance Minister Dwight Duncan was quoted as saying in the release. "They also have a growing interest in local wines. We are responding to the needs of consumers while also providing increased support for the Ontario wine, spirits and beer industry."
By announcing the new formats, the governing Liberals appear to have stolen a popular policy plank from Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, who proposed liberalizing liquor sales at a high-profile press conference outside LCBO headquarters on December 4.
At the time, the Liberals gave no indication they intended to make changes to the provincial liquor regime. On Monday, a finance ministry spokesperson denied that the government had nicked Hudak's idea.
"The government is listening to the people of Ontario," the spokesperson wrote in an email to NOW.
"We aren't hearing complaints about the LCBO but we are hearing that people want additional convenience and flexibility when it comes to where they can purchase their beer, wine and spirits."
The new Liberal plan doesn't go as far as the one Hudak floated however. He promised that if he were elected premier, he would look at a wholesale privatization of the LCBO as well as allowing alcohol sales at corner stores.