On 'Popcorngate,' Legault offers cinemas compensation but no concessions

·2 min read
Quebec's premier specifically cited social media pressure from Guzzo Cinemas president and CEO Vincenzo Guzzo, who said his chain would not open because of the popcorn issue.
Quebec's premier specifically cited social media pressure from Guzzo Cinemas president and CEO Vincenzo Guzzo, who said his chain would not open because of the popcorn issue.

(Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The Quebec government took steps Thursday to assuage the concerns of cinema owners after their at-best-tepid response to a plan to reopen movie theatres over March break.

That plan, which also permits indoor pools and sports venues to reopen as of Feb. 26, was intended to give parents more ways to entertain their children during the break. But many cinema owners balked at the stipulation that they could not sell popcorn or other snacks.

"Would I have expected a 'Popcorngate' in Quebec?" Premier François Legault asked during a question period with the media Thursday morning. "A few months ago I wouldn't have believed it."

Legault specifically cited social media pressure from Guzzo Cinemas president and CEO Vincenzo Guzzo, who said his chain would not open because of the popcorn issue.

The premier said the government would offer compensation for losses at the concession stand to cinemas that decide to open.

But he said they would not back down on the ban on selling popcorn and snacks — the rules around food sales were for the same public health reasons that have kept restaurants closed.

"If you want people to keep masks on for all the movie, you can't have popcorn," he said.

On social media, Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said cinemas that reopen will remain eligible for a compensation fund for businesses in red zones. "We are sensitive to your situation," he wrote.

Quebec's cinema owners' association has so far declined to comment. Sylvain Gilbert, general manager of Cinéma Lido and Cinéma Des Chutes in Lévis, Que., told Radio-Canada the government's offer was not enough.

No live performances

Legault also took pains to explain the government's position on live theatre spaces, which aren't being allowed to reopen.

The March break plan is specifically about children, and the rationale is that cinemas can cater to them with screenings during the day, Legault said.

"I don't mean to imply that children aren't interested in the theatre during the day," Legault elaborated, seemingly wary of alienating kids' theatre aficionados.

Although there is live theatre for children, he said, most performance spaces depend on evening performances for their bottom line — but evening performances are currently impossible because of the ongoing curfew.

The government spoke to theatre owners, who said because of the curfew it was preferable to receive financial compensation now and reopen properly later, Legault said.