Tough Ontario rules bite into freebies for liquor board workers

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA - Liquor board workers in Ontario have been ordered to stop accepting freebies from the big distilleries and breweries.
For years, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario has allowed its employees to accept free tickets to hockey games, concerts, curling matches and stage shows from the companies that supply their stores with liquor, beer and wine.
But tough new rules imposed by the Ontario government have ended the gravy train, forcing workers to refuse the hundreds of ticket offers they once accepted.
The ban was imposed last August, and the agency issued revised guidelines to its workers in March this year.
An internal report estimates that no-charge tickets represented about a third of all the supplier-paid benefits enjoyed by a key group of employees. The rest were mostly business meals, which are still allowed.
The report, created in anticipation of the tougher rules, also found that the official forms employees are required to file when they accept freebies are too often vague and incomplete.
"There is a significant amount of activity for sporting and entertainment events," says the document, obtained by The Canadian Press under the province's freedom-of-information law.
"There was inconsistent documentation of the business reason for the various activities, and inconsistent levels of detail provided with respect to company or individual host names."
LCBO auditors examined monthly reports filed by 95 workers, mostly in sales and marketing, who routinely work closely with suppliers. The reports document each occasion in which an employee accepts a freebie, whether a gift, a meal or a ticket to a hockey game or other event.
Over the 18 months covered by the audit, each worker on average enjoyed a freebie a month - though for one unidentified employee it was once a week.
The reports do not include any information about the dollar value of the freebies, and LCBO auditors did not make estimates.
The agency previously justified allowing its employees to accept a wide range of supplier-paid activities to promote a "positive business relationship."
But the practice was severely curtailed when the liquor board was brought under the Public Service of Ontario Act, which sets out tough ethical standards for the province's government workers.
Business meals worth less than $50 are still allowed but free tickets to sporting and entertainment events are out, such as the We Care Golf Classic or the Hillebrand Jazz Festival.
In a report presented to management last December, the auditors estimated that the move will reduce the number of freebies by at least a third, or about one freebie - now mostly business meals - every two months for each worker.
The LCBO, in the meantime, has revised its monthly reporting system to require some employees to provide more details about the reason for the supplier-paid benefit.
A spokeswoman for the liquor board, which has a monopoly on sales in the province, said the audit's estimate of a one-third reduction in supplier-paid benefits seems to be borne out by recent experience.
"Since the implementation of the new guidelines, this forecast appears to be fairly accurate," said Linda Hapak.
"As well, there is no evidence to suggest suppliers are substituting meals for events. In fact, business meals where hospitality is accepted are declining, as is attendance at sporting and entertainment events."

Organizations: Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Canadian Press, Public Service

Geographic location: Ontario, OTTAWA, Hillebrand

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