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Legault Stands by Popcorn Ban, but Offers Financial Aid to Movie Theatres

Undeterred by “popcorngate,” the premier says the rule stands for the same reason restaurants are closed: Masks need to stay on inside

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Premier François Legault says that if someone would have told him a couple of months ago that he’d be entangled in what he calls “popcorngate,” he wouldn’t believe them, and yet, here we are. Following criticism from Quebec movie theatres, the province’s leader announced this morning that they’d be eligible for compensation for the loss of food sales when they reopen on February 26.

Legault was referring explicitly to the denunciation of Guzzo Cinemas president and CEO Vincent Guzzo, who has said he would not be opening the doors to his establishments at the end of the month, unless the sale of popcorn, which reportedly accounts for 45 percent of his revenue, is permitted. Guzzo Cinemas runs 11 establishments across the province.

On Tuesday, Legault announced that movie theatres, as well as indoor skating rinks and pools, would be permitted to reopen later this month to entertain children off for spring break during the first week of March. However, specific safety regulations would be put in place, including the disputed ban on the sale of food and drink at the cinema. Talking to journalists in Quebec City this morning, he doubled down on that decision.

“Mr. Guzzo says he won’t open his theatres (and he has many in Quebec) if we don’t permit him to sell popcorn, but public health is telling us that if we want people to keep their masks on throughout the entire movie, then, of course, you can’t sell popcorn,” Legault says. “That is why we aren’t opening restaurants. So, what can I say?”

Despite Guzzo’s threat to remain closed if Legault doesn’t change his tune, and his ongoing barrage of criticism on Twitter, a pop-up message on Cinema Guzzo’s homepage says that the theatres would indeed be reopening. “We are happy to welcome you back again as of February 26th!” the message, signed by the Guzzo president, reads.

The note does not overtly address the sale of food but does say that “used cups, candy wrappers and popcorn bags” must be thrown in the trash and that mask-wearing is mandatory except for when moviegoers are “seated in the auditorium,” which would be in direct violation of the rules delineated by the province.

Legault says he hopes Guzzo will be “happy” with the announcement of compensation, which minister of economy and innovation Pierre Fitzgibbon also tweeted about this morning. “Theatres that open will still be eligible for the AERAM to cover fixed costs up to a maximum of $ 15,000 per month for the food component. We are sensitive to their situation,” he said. AERAM is a provincial loan program for businesses affected by red zone restrictions.

“It’s normal that if you make a lot of profit with popcorn and I don’t permit you to sell it that I will compensate you,” Legault said.

Following the announcement that Legault intends to stand by his decision to ban concessions in movie theatres, Guzzo tweeted that he sent a message to the premier and is awaiting a reply.