Not selling popcorn at the movies adds plot twist to COVID-19 fight

Québec Premier François Legault

ANYTHING CAN TURN POLITICAL—EVEN POPCORN. Just ask Québec Premier François Legault who says he only wanted to give kids a chance to go to the movies on March break. Now he is tangled up in “popcorngate.”

Legault announced on February 16 he would allow movie theatres to open February 26 for March break. But there was one catch: no popcorn. That was all Vincenzo Guzzo needed.

Guzzo owns the largest number of independent cinemas in the province. He declared that if he couldn’t sell popcorn he wouldn’t open any cinemas. Lost sales from popcorn and other snacks would remove any profit, he said.

“Popcorngate” was born.

Not really about popcorn

Legault tried to fix things by offering a government subsidy to make up for lost popcorn sales. Guzzo would have none of it. He tweeted: “I won’t take public money for unsold popcorn. It was never my philosophy.”

Guzzo’s philosophy is a matter of very public record. He is a militant neo-liberal, a constant tweeter about the need for small government, a former “dragon” on Dragons’ Den, the CBC TV show for venture capitalists and a one-time prospect for leader for the Conservative Party of Canada.

Guzzo makes no secret of his dislike for everything the Legault government does. He regularly attacks the Legault government over how it has handled the pandemic.

“Not one of the worst… THE WORST record in CDA in handling the Pandemic,” Guzzo tweeted. “The #s are startling, to say the least. We Québecers need to stop accepting this political quagmire, without questioning.”

In another tweet about the controversy, Guzzo said: “These are political decisions that impact the life/death of our companies.”

Telling him he couldn’t sell popcorn gave Guzzo another chance to poke Legault in the eye.

No place for government

“I did not ask him for anything,” Guzzo told HuffPost Canada. The Cinémas Guzzo boss said all he wants from the provincial government is the right to run his business the way it’s supposed to be run, inclusive of concession sales.

Guzzo said he was concerned that Legault’s offer of compensation for lost profits was bad policy because it suggests all struggling companies should get compensation. “What are you going to do with all those restaurants and all those other people you closed?”he asked.

Legault pointed out the sale of popcorn challenges public health advice directing movie-goers to keep their face masks on during the entirety of a movie. “So, what can I say?”

Guzzo said if the recommendation to halt concession sales comes directly from public health officials, that’s advice he can respect.

Tempest in a popcorn bag

“Was I anticipating a ‘popcorngate’ in Quebec?”, asked Legault. “If you had told me that a few months ago, I wouldn’t have believed it.” But that’s what he got.

Hundreds of internet users expressed their dissatisfaction with the Legault government.

On February 20, the province’s health ministry slightly altered its policy on popcorn and other food in the province’s movie theatres. When theatres re-open on February 26, those in the orange zones will be able to sell concessions.

Movie theatres in red zones, however, will still not be permitted to sell snacks.

A notice posted on the website for Cinemas Guzzo suggested the chain was preparing to reopen February 26. “We’re doing everything to serve you under the best possible conditions so you can entertain yourself in total safety,” it read.

As of February 24, the offer of compensation to movie theatre owners for lost popcorn sales remained in place.

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