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How Doug Ford’s order to bring back paper bags caught LCBO execs by surprise | CBC News

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s order to the LCBO to bring back paper bags caught the provincial liquor store’s senior executives off guard and sent its management scrambling to procure new supply, documents obtained by Radio-Canada reveal.

Ford’s move came on a Sunday night in April, some seven months after the LCBO had stopped offering paper bags at its 660 retail stores across the province.

Ford told CEO George Soleas to “take immediate steps to reverse the decision” in an email sent just before 7 p.m. on April 7, according to documents obtained through Ontario’s freedom of information laws.

Within hours, Soleas informed members of the LCBO’s senior management team and expressed his surprise in messages to the province’s deputy minister of finance and the Crown corporation’s board of directors.

“Last night, I was surprised to receive a letter from Premier Ford directing LCBO to take immediate steps to reverse the decision to remove paper bags from our retail locations,” Soleas said in an email to board members at 9 a.m. on April 8.

“We were confident in making this move — which was approved by the government,” he added.

‘At a time when many Ontario families are already struggling to make ends meet, every additional expense counts,’ Ford wrote in an April 7 letter to the LCBO’s chief executive officer, ordering the liquor agency to bring free paper bags back to its retail stores. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

“Not sure you are in the loop with this one!” Soleas said in a separate email forwarding Ford’s letter to the top bureaucrat in Ontario’s Ministry of Finance, deputy minister Greg Orencsak. 

The LCBO first announced in April 2023 that it planned to eliminate paper bags, saying the move would save some 135 million paper bags annually and divert more than 2,600 tonnes of waste from landfills.

Not enough bags to cover province

Ford’s sudden order to reverse the move cited the cost to customers of providing their own bags. “At a time when many Ontario families are already struggling to make ends meet, every additional expense counts,” the premier wrote in his letter to Soleas.

Internal emails obtained by Radio-Canada reveal how the LCBO’s senior staff reacted to word of Ford’s move and a Toronto Sun article that broke the news publicly the next morning. 

“Don’t understand, you get a letter yesterday but it is already in The Sun??” the LCBO’s chief information officer, Geoff Cronin, wrote to Soleas in one message sent at 7:25 a.m. on April 8.

“Toronto Sun has already picked up on this so we are going to be asked to move quickly. We will likely need to provide direction to the stores this AM,” wrote the LCBO’s chief retail officer, John Summers, at 7:11 a.m. the same day.

“We are likely going to have to do some quick procurement on new bags. We may still have some excess in some stores but not enough to cover the province,” Summers added in another email two minutes later. 

The LCBO Tecumseh Road East and Lauzon Parkway was slated as a site for free rapid testing kits, provided for by the province.
‘Last night, I was surprised to receive a letter from Premier Ford directing LCBO to take immediate steps to reverse the decision to remove paper bags from our retail locations,’ LCBO chief executive George Soleas said in an April 8 email to the Crown corporation’s board of directors, obtained through a freedom of information request. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

The documents show the LCBO had terminated its contract with its previous supplier when it stopped offering the bags last year. Just two weeks after Ford’s order, the Crown corporation posted a call for bids for a new supplier. The deadline to bid was originally scheduled for May 27, but has been extended to June 17.   

“We are in the process of reviewing submissions. Once a final decision is made regarding the vendor, we will determine when paper bags can be made available to customers,” said an LCBO spokesperson in an email to Radio-Canada.

The provincial liquor agency had made the decision to eliminate paper bags for environmental reasons, according to the email its chief executive sent to the board of directors.

“While the removal of paper bags did reduce operational costs, this was about minimizing our impact on the environment,” Soleas wrote. “Paper bags can be recycled, but they are not made from recycled material, so there is still an environmental impact.”

Officials for Ford and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy did not provide direct answers to questions about the environmental impact of the move and the lack of any advance warning to the LCBO.

“To make life easier, more convenient and more affordable for the people of Ontario, the government asked the LCBO to bring back free paper bags for customers,” Bethlenfalvy’s press secretary Colin Blachar said in an emailed response. “We look forward to seeing paper bags back in stores once LCBO has completed the necessary process to select a paper bag vendor.”

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