MONTREAL — The Quebec government will compensate movie theatre owners for lost concession stand revenue, Premier Francois Legault said Thursday, following a disagreement that he dubbed "Popcorngate."
The province has said movie theatres can reopen Feb. 26 but cannot sell food, in order to ensure people wear masks throughout the duration of films to limit spread of COVID-19.
Legault said the owner of the Guzzo Cinemas chain had threatened to stay closed because of the difficulty turning a profit without selling snacks.
"Mr Guzzo says he doesn’t want to open movie theatres — and he has many in Quebec — if we don’t permit him to sell popcorn," Legault told reporters in Quebec City.
"Public Health is telling us that ... if you want people to keep their masks during the movie, of course, you cannot sell popcorn."
The premier said he'll compensate owners for concession stand losses because he wants theatres to stay open to give parents an additional activity to do with their kids during the March break week.
Cinema owner Vincenzo Guzzo's public criticism of the reopening plan has inspired the term Popcorngate, and the name has since been picked up by commentators and politicians.
Parti Quebecois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon posted a video on Twitter Wednesday — edited to include bouncing kernels and musical sound effects — of himself trying to keep a straight face while answering a reporter's question about the popcorn conflict.
"The scientific data as to why popcorn is a threat, we'll never know because we have a (Health Department) that never publishes data, never publishes in a transparent manner why they are doing things," St-Pierre Plamondon said.
Legault said Thursday he was surprised to get drawn into an argument over popcorn, adding that he understands that cinema owners need to be compensated for lost revenue.
"Did I expect a Popcorngate in Quebec?" Legault asked. "(If) you would have told me that a few months ago, I wouldn't have believed it."
He said Guzzo had criticized him on Twitter, but added: "I can understand that a part of the profits for the movie theatres is coming from popcorn."
A notice posted on the website for Cinemas Guzzo suggested the chain was preparing to reopen Feb. 26. "We're doing everything to serve you under the best possible conditions so you can entertain yourself in total safety," it read.
Legault said theatres that host plays and other performances were kept closed because the industry said it preferred to continue receiving government aid instead of reopening when people can't leave their houses after 8 p.m. The premier said the theatre sector wanted to reopen when the nighttime curfew is lifted.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2021.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press