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Wynne ready to tap the Beer Store for infrastructure funding

Kathleen Wynne is adamant that she’s prepared to take on the private owners of the Beer Store as she searches for the funds to expand subways and highways.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Kathleen Wynne is adamant that she's prepared to take on the private owners of the Beer Store as she searches for the funds to expand subways and highways.

At a Liberal Party meeting in Windsor, the Ontario Premier responded to the recommendations of a government panel looking at ways to squeeze more cash out of provincial assets – money that would then be put in the new Trillium Trust to pay for transit and other infrastructure. The panel has suggested selling off Hydro One's distribution business, having the publicly owned LCBO push for bigger discounts from its suppliers, and making the companies that own the Beer Store pay the province more as a condition of keeping their monopoly.

"I'm absolutely willing to take those on," Ms. Wynne told reporters. "Will it be easy? … No, it won't be. But that's not a problem from my perspective. That's exactly why it needs to be taken on."

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The lobby group representing the Beer Store's owners – international brewing giants Molson Coors, AB InBev and Sapporo – has threatened higher beer prices if the government dings it for more cash. But Ms. Wynne signalled this will not stand in her way.

"We're going to make sure that we have a rational distribution system – whether it's of beer or of other alcoholic products," she said. "There are things we can do that will make it better."

The Premier also addressed criticism over a legal loophole her government created that would allow cabinet to redirect asset-sale revenue away from infrastructure and into other spending files.

"We are committed to building transit and transportation infrastructure across the province," she said. "It's a cornerstone of the plan for economic growth."

Progressive Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton said Ms. Wynne's plans for the LCBO and the Beer Store don't go far enough, and she should consider more private alcohol sales.

"Look: if we were to build Ontario again, we wouldn't be building the same communist-style liquor system that we have here in the province," he said.

NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky, meanwhile, argued Hydro One's distribution business should be kept in public hands, evoking the Liberals' controversial bailout of the Medical and Related Sciences research incubator as a cautionary tale on mixing the public and private spheres.

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"The Liberals feel like they're on cloud nine after their election win, but in reality they're on MaRs and so far that trip has cost us over $300-million," she said.

In an earlier speech Saturday, Ms. Wynne rallied hundreds of party officials ahead of the new legislative session, which starts Monday.

She is hoping to swiftly pass new laws that will govern infrastructure planning, crack down on auto insurance fraud and index the minimum wage to inflation.

The Premier tried to frame these measures, and her government, as moderate and centrist.

"[People] care less about left and right than they do about moving forward," she told a packed hall at Caesar's casino. "As Liberals, we are not trying to put into practice the musings of some long-dead political philosopher."

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