REGINA – The Saskatchewan Party government is planning for 52 more private liquor stores as well as changes to wholesale pricing and regulations for retailers, once the party is re-elected.
On Wednesday morning the government announced plans to sell off 40 government liquor stores for conversion to privately-run stores and to allow 12 new private liquor stores in what it believes are under-served communities.
“Saskatchewan consumers will enjoy more choice, more convenience and more competitive pricing,” Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) Minister Don McMorris said.
The new expanded private retail model aims to create a level playing field for liquor retailers and will see all retailers, including off-sale outlets, treated the same way when it comes to purchasing at wholesale prices, hours of operation and product selection.
”This new direction allows government to collect the same amount of revenue through a new wholesale markup while also correcting many inequities that have existed among the province’s various liquor retailers,” McMorris said.
One other change will see commercial permit holders like restaurants, sports facilities and convention centres able to purchase products from any liquor retailer rather than the current requirement which requires that they purchase exclusively from SLGA liquor stores and franchises.
“There’s a lot of change required to get our retail system where it needs to be and we now have a plan in place,” McMorris said.
The government values the 40 stores being sold at $4 million. 196 jobs would be affected.
The changes wouldn’t take place until after the provincial election, something critics argue deflect from current issues facing the government.
NDP SLGA critic Cathy Sproule said the move will result in a loss of revenue for the province.
“Those revenues aren’t going into government coffers anymore. Those stores make money for the people of Saskatchewan and they’re being privatized,” she added.
However, McMorris says the province’s revenue comes from the warehouse, where retailers buy their liquor at a marked up price, not the revenue from in-store.
University of Regina economist Jason Childs published a policy brief on alcohol sales in Saskatchewan and said the move is low risk.
“We’ve already been moving in this direction, this is just the next small step,” he said. “I don’t think this should be surprising to anyone. This is a direction across the country it’s not unique to Saskatchewan, B.C made this move years ago.”
Key changes customers will see
Pricing – Store prices on the majority of products in Saskatchewan are unlikely to change, though McMorris says private retailers will now have more flexibility to set their own prices. “They can choose how much they want to mark it up. If they want to attract a certain crowd and have high-end alcohol marked up less and low-end alcohol marked up higher, that’s up to them,” McMorris said.
Hours of operation – Currently, only off-sale outlets are open in to the late evening and early morning hours while SLGA-run stores close at 9 p.m. Under the new plans, all liquor stores in the province would be allowed to sell until 3 a.m.
Integration with grocery stores – The new plans would pave the way for liquor stores to be integrated into existing businesses (like grocery stores), similar to other provinces. While you wouldn’t be able to buy your beer and produce at the same cashier – transactions would have to remain separate from the grocery side – but the two could operate separately, within the same building. This would be familiar to people living in rural Saskatchewan, where 190 SLGA outlets operate within another business, such as a pharmacy, because standalone liquor stores may not survive on their own.