Convention to debate Saskatchewan liquor sales

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says liquor sales are the most interesting issue at party's convention.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says liquor sales are the most interesting issue at party's convention. File / Global News

REGINA – Premier Brad Wall says Saskatchewan’s liquor retailing system is the most interesting issue up for debate at his party’s annual convention.

Seven hundred Saskatchewan Party members attended the premier’s keynote address on Saturday in Regina.

Wall’s speech covered a wide range of issues and touted his party’s action on health care, education and agriculture.

“Typically we don’t make any new announcements at our convention but it’s a great chance to do a little bit of historical review,” Wall said to reporters after the speech.

One session focused on debating a government paper that outlined five possible options for the province’s liquor retailing future.

The paper released by Don McMorris, minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, suggested everything from the status quo to expanded government involvement to Alberta-style, fully private retailers.

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Saskatchewan introduced private wine stores in 2009 and more recently approved four private liquor outlets.

In the throne speech last month, the government reaffirmed its commitment to move away from building Crown liquor stores.

Wall echoed the sentiment again at the convention.

“What we decided last year is that in growing neighbourhoods where the demographics justify a new store … we said we’re not going to invest money on bricks and mortar on a liquor store,” he said.

Wall said the government is soliciting public feedback on the issue so that his party has a firm stance going into the next election. The paper is open for comment online until Jan. 30.

The convention will be the last meeting of its kind before the next election, which is expected to take place in April 2016.

The premier told party members in his speech that the government must be transparent about mistakes.

In an interview, Wall said the most recent example is the smart-meter program, which has been plagued with problems since the summer.

“The most recent issue that we’ve been dealing with is what SaskPower did and didn’t do with respect to the smart-meter process,” he said, noting that the program’s shortfalls led to the resignation of SaskPower’s CEO. “As for government though, we need to then learn from that, accept the recommendations of the reports that we asked for and implement the recommendations.”

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Last summer, the province ordered SaskPower to remove more than 100,000 of the newer models that had already been installed after reports of at least eight fires related to the devices.

Saskatchewan’s Crown Investment Corp. was directed to do a review after the fires. It found that customer safety wasn’t enough of a priority.

A ninth incident was reported on Friday when a smart meter installed on a home in Regina overheated and melted.

“Nine is too many,” Wall said. “And that’s why I’m very glad we made the decision to have them pulled.”

SaskPower is planning to have all meters removed by March 15.

The Opposition has been criticizing the government for its response to the safety issues and is calling for the resignation of Economy Minister Bill Boyd, who is also the minister responsible for SaskPower.

Wall said in anticipation of the next election, his party will focus on door-knocking to listen to constituents’ concerns.

“We need to be disciplined in terms of meeting with people,” he said. “That will help develop our platform.”

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