Weighing the pros and cons of private liquor stores

REGINA – To privatize, or not? That’s the question facing the government, as Premier Brad Wall and Opposition leader Cam Broten go shot-for-shot over Saskatchewan liquor stores.

Discussion about who sells alcohol in the province has heated up in recent weeks and it may just become an election issue in 2016.

In Wall’s cabinet shuffle Thursday, Don McMorris, the new minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, was directed to further explore selling off government-owned liquor stores.

“We’re talking about not breaking any promises we’ve made,” Wall said Thursday. “If there’s going to be a change on the liquor stores front, we would campaign on it.”

Broten told reporters he doesn’t think there’s a will to privatize.

“There may be a desire for changes to SLGA, but those things can be accomplished through modernizing SLGA,” said Broten.

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The arguments in favour of private stores usually centre around the consumer – longer hours and competitive prices.

Lisa Watson, a University of Regina marketing professor, says it could mean more selection.

“Variety is something we’ll get in terms of more buyers for more places, so they’ll have different target markets, different interests. Just like any other retail establishment would,” said Watson.

The downside to more readily-available liquor? The impact on public health.

Studies show Saskatchewan already has among the highest rates of alcohol-related harm.

Simon Enoch, who runs the Saskatchewan office for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says privatizing liquor stores would only lead to greater cost to society.

“Whether that’s drunk driving, (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), underage drinking, domestic violence,” Enoch said. “All of that adds up.”

It’s becoming clear Saskatchewan residents may have to weigh the pros and cons of privatizing liquor stores in the next two years.

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