Government Initiatives and Priorities

As an agency of the provincial government, the AGCO helps support and deliver on the Ontario government’s public policy priorities and fiscal objectives. The AGCO continued to review its priorities and its operations to remain consistent with government direction and to ensure cost-effective and customer-focused service delivery. Examples of AGCO strategic initiatives to support government policy include the following:

1. Licensing and regulation of recreational cannabis

The AGCO is responsible for regulating Ontario’s privately run cannabis retail stores under the Cannabis Licence Act, 2018 and Regulation 468/18.

Under Ontario’s regulatory model, the AGCO:

  • licenses eligible retail store operators and managers
  • authorizes cannabis retail stores
  • regulates and enforces the appropriate sale of recreational cannabis in privately run stores in Ontario.

In 2020–2021, the AGCO continued its work to support the Government of Ontario in the regulation of legal, recreational cannabis.

In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the government declared a state of emergency in April 2020. The AGCO responded in turn by updating its Registrar’s Standards for Cannabis Retail Stores to enable delivery and curbside pickup, announcing various burden-reduction measures as well as pivoting to a remote compliance approach wherever possible.

While the government’s emergency orders expired in July 2020, it subsequently announced a lockdown in November 2020, followed by stay-at-home orders in January 2021. The AGCO amended its Registrar’s Standards for Cannabis Retail Stores accordingly to permit delivery and curbside pickup in applicable regions and will continue to be responsive to licensees and other stakeholders throughout the duration of the pandemic and beyond.

In 2020–2021, the AGCO, in partnership with the Ontario Cannabis Store, significantly increased the rate at which it issued Retail Store Authorizations (RSAs). As of February 2021, the AGCO began issuing 30 RSAs per week.

To help both new and current applicants better understand the RSA application process, the AGCO also developed and published new resources, including:

2. Modernizing regulations concerning the sale and consumption of beverage alcohol

In December 2019, the Liquor Licence and Control Act (the LLCA) received Royal Assent.

The LLCA represents a major modernization of the regulatory regime for Ontario’s beverage alcohol sector and is expected to come into force in 2021.

Over the past year the AGCO has continued to work collaboratively with Government to develop the regulations that will complete the new regulatory framework under the LLCA. In the coming years, the AGCO will work to implement the changes in the liquor regulatory regime and develop Registrar’s Standards for the sector to reflect the AGCO’s modern, outcomes-based approach to regulation.

Throughout 2020, the AGCO worked collaboratively with the Government of Ontario to introduce several measures to support businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic and offer consumers greater choice and convenience, now and into the future. These changes include:

  • Providing flexibility for local businesses and restaurants by introducing liquor takeout and delivery with food from eligible liquor licensed establishments.
  • Increasing options for liquor delivery to customers by providing more flexibility for liquor delivery licensees and manufacturers with a retail store and the Beer Store.
  • Partnering with Smart Serve to offer free registration to the certification program to quickly increase the availability of certified delivery drivers. There was an overwhelming response to the initiative, with 100,000 enrolments during the free enrolment period.
  • Enhancing consumer choice and reducing administrative burden on businesses by expanding the Farmers Market program to permit additional Ontario wines and allow the sale of spirits at Ontario farmers’ markets.
  • Permitting virtual auctions to provide charitable organizations, administrators, executors, and law enforcement officers more flexibility to continue operations during the ongoing restrictions on social gatherings and into the future.
  • Allowing liquor sales licensees (e.g., licensed bars and restaurants) to temporarily extend their patios to support businesses to safely reopen and minimize administrative burden for licensees.
  • Allowing boat operators with a liquor sales licence to sell and serve liquor while the boat is docked, and to temporarily extend their licensed premises to create a patio.
  • Temporarily extending the liquor sales retail hours to provide ongoing flexibility for customers and retail stores. This extension of hours applies to all authorized grocery stores, Manufacturer’s Retail Stores, LCBO stores (including Convenience Outlets), and Brewers Retail Inc. stores (The Beer Store).

3. Open for Business

In October 2020, the Ontario government released the Ontario Onwards Action Plan to make government services simpler, easier to use, and more convenient and accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. The Action Plan outlines how the government will make public-sector services more customer-focused, digital- and data-driven while increasing the speed of government operations and decisions.

In aligning with the objectives set out in the Action Plan, the AGCO continued to implement regulatory and internal reforms by making services more digitally accessible, reducing red tape, simplifying policies and creating more responsive and flexible services to the public. For example, to support businesses at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AGCO extended the term of all licences, registrations and authorizations.

The AGCO continues to build strategic partnerships and share information with other government ministries and agencies to strengthen collaborative and streamlined approaches. This includes effective relationships with the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Finance, the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), the OLG and the LCBO.

In 2020–21, the AGCO worked collaboratively with the Government of Ontario on a number of liquor regulatory reforms to simplify rules, create flexibility and reduce unnecessary burden for liquor licence holders. For the horse racing sector, a number of rules were put in place to accommodate the return to horse racing and to ease industry burden while ensuring the welfare of equine and human athletes and other racing participants. For the gaming sector, the Registrar’s Standards for Gaming were amended to support a collaborative approach between the AGCO and charitable gaming centre operators, casino operators and the OLG for the safe re-opening of gaming sites. For the cannabis retail sector, the AGCO amended the Registrar’s Standards for Cannabis Retail Stores to temporarily accommodate delivery and curbside pickup services.

4. OLG casino, player platform, and lottery modernization

OLG casino modernization

The OLG started modernizing commercial gaming operations by inviting private-sector casino companies to become the new Casino Operators. The OLG divided Ontario casino sites into eight gaming bundles and released Requests for Proposal for private-sector Casino Operators for each bundle. All eight bundles (East, Southwest, North, Ottawa, GTA, West GTA, Central, and Niagara) have transitioned to private- sector Casino Operators. The Niagara Bundle was the last to transition in June 2019.

Casino Operators are choosing to build new casinos or expand and relocate existing ones in their respective bundles. Numerous expansions and new builds have taken place over the past few years, many with plans to build hotels and live entertainment venues, as well as expand gaming facilities to include “live” table games. The AGCO enhances the operators’ understanding of and compliance with AGCO/OPP regulatory requirements by providing them with a Building, Expanding and Relocating Casinos guide, and participates in activities such as pre-opening compliance inspections and “mock” casino exercises.

Over the past year, due to COVID-19, the casino sites have had significant impacts to the implementation and timing of their plans regarding their new builds and expansions. They are expected to abide by all provincial and local health guidelines and the Provincial Re-opening Framework to ensure the health and safety of patrons and staff. They have also completed a COVID-19 pandemic re-opening plan that was submitted to the AGCO for review.

As the Ontario government closed land-based gaming sites as part of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, the AGCO began to work with industry stakeholders to identify options for a safe and responsible re-opening of land-based gaming. To that end, the Registrar established Standard 1.2.1 to support a collaborative approach among the AGCO, charitable gaming centre Operators, Casino Operators, and the OLG for the safe re-opening of gaming sites. Operators developed and implemented pandemic re-opening plans to comply with government and public health requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at physical gaming sites, had the plans assessed by an infectious disease subject matter expert and provided them to the AGCO for review. Upon re-opening, the operators provided pandemic compliance performance self-assessment reports, and the AGCO conducted periodic inspections to ensure the gaming sites were in compliance with their plans.

OLG player platform and lottery modernization

Under the OLG’s Lottery Modernization Strategy, and in accordance with AGCO standards, the OLG is also modernizing key components of its lottery and igaming business, including a new OLG Player Platform, the replacement of lottery terminals, an enhanced sports betting solution, a new web and App presence, as well as new games.

The goal of the OLG Player Platform, which launched in October of 2020, and the Lottery Modernization Strategy is to expand the customer base by ensuring technology and product solutions are responsive to changing customer needs. Due to COVID-19, the OLG intends to segment the launch of all Lottery Modernization initiatives for digital and retail channels including the release of their new sports betting solution, with Phase 1 of digital and retail releases planned for later in the coming fiscal year and the integration of all systems to be part of future phases. The AGCO is working to educate new Gaming-Related Suppliers on the regulatory requirements and expectations as well as to assess technical solutions in accordance with the Registrar’s Standards and the principles of integrity and public interest.

The OLG and the AGCO continue to work together to implement the overall modernization strategy. The AGCO’s approach, both in its day-to-day role as well as in modernization, is to be standards- and risk- based, as well as outcomes-focused. The agency has successfully transitioned to a standards-based approach in casino gaming, lotteries, charitable gaming and igaming.

5. Open Government

In accordance with the Open Data Directive, the AGCO posted on its website an inventory of datasets under its custody and control. The inventory identifies whether a dataset is currently open, in the process of being opened, or exempt from being released as open data due to legal, security, privacy, confidentiality or commercially sensitive reasons. New datasets were added to the inventory in 2020. The AGCO will continue to make priority datasets available to the public on its website under an open-by-default approach.

In February 2021, the Ontario Government released three new data directives. The new Digital and Data Directive replaces the Open Data Directive.

6. Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) was created with the goal of developing standards that would improve accessibility for people with disabilities across the province. The AGCO has developed accessibility standards in the areas of customer service, employment, information and communications, transportation and the physical environment.

The AODA requires all provincial agencies to provide updates to their Accessibility Plan and Policies on an annual basis. The AGCO is committed to meeting the needs of persons with disabilities in a timely manner by preventing and removing barriers to accessibility and meeting accessibility requirements under the AODA. The AGCO has implemented the requirements outlined in the plan and participated in various activities to inform its plan and policies, including the review and update of its practices in the areas of training, information and communication, and employment.

The AGCO is committed to ensuring that its public website meets or exceeds the accessibility standards required under the AODA. This includes producing all content in an accessible HTML format, which can be more easily read by assistive technologies such as screen readers. The AGCO website met Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA in December 2020. These guidelines are an internationally accepted standard for web accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, an international team of experts. Each guideline has three levels of accessibility: A, AA and AAA.

All AGCO employees are trained on the requirements of Ontario’s accessibility laws, including the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) and the Ontario Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities. This accessibility training has been built into the employee orientation process to ensure that all new AGCO employees, as well as the Board of Directors and HRAP members, have a good and appropriate understanding of accessibility to perform their duties and provide services to the AGCO’s diverse stakeholders.

The AGCO maintains a commitment to meeting all requirements under the AODA and the IASR and continues to refine its accessibility plan with a focus on ensuring its policies and practices remain accessible and meet the needs of all stakeholders, including persons with disabilities.

7. French Language Services Act

The French Language Services Act (FLSA) applies to all Ontario government ministries and agencies and protects the rights of French-speaking people in Ontario. Under the FLSA, all AGCO staff are responsible for ensuring that members of the public can access AGCO services in French.

The AGCO is committed to making its services to the public available in French at the same quality and service standard as in English. In addition to frontline assistance provided by AGCO staff, the AGCO seeks to ensure that French Language Services are clearly visible, readily available, easily accessible and publicized. In line with this commitment, the AGCO has developed policies and procedures to document and support the consistent delivery of French language services across the agency.

8. Education, Training and Awareness Fund

Funding for Educational, Training and Awareness (ETA) initiatives is available through the AGCO’s Orders of Monetary Penalty (OMP) account. This account is funded through the monetary penalties that have been assessed against licensees, registrants and others regulated by the AGCO who have contravened provincial laws. The AGCO is required to use all of the money collected through monetary penalties exclusively for ETA purposes. Over the years the AGCO has increasingly leveraged OMP money to develop educational projects and initiatives to promote and enhance regulatory compliance.

In 2019–2020, the Education, Training and Awareness (ETA) Fund was launched, allowing industry associations, social responsibility groups and others similarly active and that have the capacity to deliver programming in the industries and sectors the AGCO regulates to develop programs strategically aligned with the AGCO’s mandate. Funding is provided to programs selected by the AGCO by using money collected through OMPs.

In its first year, the AGCO selected three projects to receive funding. All three projects were successfully completed in 2020 and delivered on their intended objectives:

Project 1: MADD Canada

Funding Provided: $100,000.00
Final Evaluation: June 2020

MADD developed a public service announcement aimed at thanking servers and licensees for keeping our communities safe by refusing to sell alcohol to intoxicated customers in compliance with the law and demonstrating what can happen when servers do not uphold the law. The announcements were run on TV and radio stations in Ontario, in addition to Facebook and YouTube for five months.

  • Total online views = 1.4 million
  • Total online impressions = 2.29 million
  • Total television broadcasts = 862

Project 2: Responsible Gambling Council (RGC)

Funding Provided: $81,400.00
Final Evaluation: December 2020

The RGC developed a series of evidence-informed social media messages about refraining from gambling while intoxicated by alcohol and/or cannabis, targeting young adults in Ontario, with a focus on Kenora, North Bay, and Peterborough.

  • Total online views across all videos = 24,349
  • Total online impressions = 444,599
  • The Northwestern Health Unit and Peterborough Public Health Unit ran social media posts allowing the campaign to reach an additional 1,218 and 480 individuals respectively.

Project 3: Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health Unit

Funding Provided: $45,000.00
Final Evaluation: February 2021

The Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFLA) Public Health Unit developed a young adult social marketing campaign aimed at reducing the harms of binge drinking. The campaign targeted the young adult peer crowd at greatest risk of alcohol harm. The campaign was presented on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for two months.

  • Total online impressions: 1,693,652
  • Non-video view engagements (likes, comments, shares): 1,868
  • Total video views: 325,425

Given the success of the first year of the ETA Fund, the AGCO launched an additional round of funding for the 2020–21 fiscal year. The AGCO selected two projects to receive funding and these projects will be reported on in next year’s annual report.

Upcoming Project 1: A Question of Care (Peterborough Drug Strategy)

Supporting individuals who drink beyond recommended limits
Provided: $22,600.00

Objective: A Question of Care was developed to engage health and social service professionals in conversations about substance use and mental illness with topic-specific workshops/training opportunities. As part of the Peterborough Drug Strategy, a Question of Care will expand the course offering to include new courses on alcohol use with the goal of reducing stigma. By enhancing the skills of professionals and building the capacity of friends and family members to understand substance use, the community will be better able to support individuals who experience people who drink beyond recommended limits.

Upcoming Project 2: Parachute Canada – Avoid Cannabis Impaired Driving

Funding Provided: $100,000.00

Objective: Parachute will adapt their #KnowWhatImpairedMeans campaign with an intended audience of Ontarians aged 25 to 34. With a consistent theme of showing situations where one would not trust someone high to keep them safe, this campaign draws the parallel to not driving while high. In addition, they will explore a point-of-sale (POS) partnership with one or more licensed Ontario cannabis retailers to share reminders about the effects of cannabis on fine motor control and perception and provide tips on avoiding cannabis-impaired driving.