The federal Competition Bureau says it is studying the differences in the beer industry in Quebec and in Ontario, casting an eye on Ontario's big-brewer-owned Beer Store.
A spokesman for the Competition Bureau said the watchdog is not launching an investigation or an enforcement action against the Beer Store, which has been called a "cartel" by the province's convenience store industry as it lobbies for the lucrative right to sell beer itself.
Competition Bureau spokesman Phil Norris said Friday that the agency is gathering information from the industry, but for "advocacy" purposes, not as part of an investigation for alleged violations of competition laws.
"I can confirm the bureau is currently examining the difference between the beer industries in Ontario and Quebec and exploring the effect that these differences have on competition in each province," Mr. Norris said in an interview. "At this time we are simply collecting information from industry participants."
Mr. Norris said the bureau was "certainly not investigating this as an enforcement action." He said it was part of the bureau's policy to engage in advocacy for greater competition in a variety of sectors.
The Beer Store is owned by Belgium's Anheuser-Busch InBev (which owns Labatt) and Molson Coors Canada. Sleeman Breweries, which is owned by Japan's Sapporo, also has a smaller stake. For the most part, beer can only be purchased at the Beer Store or at the government-owned LCBO.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association has been pushing for the change, and claims the Beer Store monopoly is to blame for what it says are higher beer prices in Ontario, compared with Quebec. The Beer Store rejects these claims.