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April 22, 2021

Who's right in the Labatt/Lakeport brewery mess?

If you watched any news broadcast from eastern Canada yesterday, chances are you saw the still-developing story about Labatt, Lakeport and some pissed off workers from the city of Hamilton.

Labatt, as you may have heard, has decided to move production of its locally produced Lakeport beer from the Hammer to London, Ont. The change to abandon its Hamilton brewery, where the beer has been made since 1992, will result in the loss of 143 jobs.

But the controversy, the real meat of the story, isn’t in the lay-offs. It’s in the corporate power-playing and the nasty realities of cutthroat business.

To recap: Labatt is moving its operations to London, leaving 143 workers out of a job. Other breweries – Rochester-based North American Breweries and Calgary’s Minhas Creek Brewing, among an unnamed third party – have offered to swoop in and buy the Lakeport locale, saving each and every employee. The people of Hamilton like this.

But the deal hinges on whether or not Labatt will leave behind key brewery equipment, which it maintains it will not. The people of Hamilton do not like this.

And this is where the story gains steam. From here, the fate of 143 Hamiltonians hangs in the balance of corporate bickering and a polarizing case of “Well, just who the hell is right in all this?”

In Labatt’s defence, the beer maker says it’s a “matter of practicality” to refuse to sell the brewery with its equipment left behind, according to a company spokesman. To prove it’s not the bad guy, the brewer has pledged to pay $2.1 million in lease and tax subsidies to a company that buys the building and gives hiring preference to laid-off Lakeport brewery workers.

Yet, the big proviso to this deal for Labatt is that the prospective company cannot be a fellow brewer – the only businesses, to this point, that have offered a real interest in saving those 143 positions. And that’s the part that has Hamilton hopping mad.

“Many Hamiltonians say Labatt … could have best shown it cared about a city beset by thousands of recent manufacturing layoffs by saving the lost jobs,” writes Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star.

So, who’s right in all this?

On the one hand, we have Labatt, a business – repeat: business – looking after its best interests. A reluctance to sell off its brewery complete with beer making equipment isn’t a move to agitate laid-off workers, it’s the smart business play. Don’t do anything to help your competition.

But then there are 143 workers that have a legitimate gripe. Not only did Labatt, in this case: Faceless Corporation X, swoop in and buy the home-grown franchise with suspicious motives (many forecasted the brewer would move Lakeport from the moment it was purchased in 2007), it’s also standing in the way of prospective saviours who want to save their jobs.

Who’s right, then? Which side are you on?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...