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Pallister explores private-sector involvement in Manitoba’s liquor system

Premier Brian Pallister is exploring making a significant change to Manitoba's liquor sales. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Francis Vachon

The way you buy your liquor in Manitoba could be changing.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says his government is exploring a model for liquor sales that uses more of the private sector in which, much like Manitoba’s cannabis system, the province remains the sole buyer.

Pallister said customer service would likely improve with the involvement of private retailers selling booze.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. The Canadian Press/John Woods

“If we can give people better choice and a competitive price on a liquor product, on an alcohol product, that’s a good thing, and that’s where we need to be looking,” Pallister said.

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“Customer service is the key to whatever success I’ve found in the small business world … and government delivery, by itself, hasn’t always been famously associated with customer service.”

Pallister said Manitoba’s cannabis system, which he described as a combination of the best of the private and public sectors, has been lauded as among Canada’s best by his fellow premiers, and he sees it as a useful model for alcohol sales as well.

Read more: Avoiding ‘unintended consequences’: Manitoba Liquor Marts stay open amid COVID-19

Todd MacKay of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Manitobans need to look at nearby provinces and states like Saskatchewan, Alberta, or North Dakota to see that liquor sales are possible without government involvement.

“It’s good when the people selling it have to earn your business (and) not just depend on it because they’re the only game in town with the government backing,” MacKay said.

Chuck Davidson of the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce said that it’s worth discussing, and a model that allows rural hotels to become the sole providers of beer and liquor could be a good middle ground.

“Let’s have a discussion in terms of what’s needed and what can be delivered by the private sector and what has to be delivered by the public sector,” Davidson said.

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Not everyone supports the idea, however.

Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

The Manitoba Federation of Labour’s Kevin Rebeck said the current liquor-buying experience is already pretty good, and Manitobans will lose out if it becomes privatized.

“The profits that are made (by Liquor Marts), go back to Manitobans and help provide other government services,” he said.

“Why we would want to have those profits go to the private sector? … I’m not sure what the benefit is.”

The president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, Michelle Gawronski, shared similar views with Global News, saying the whole thing doesn’t make sense to her.

“To me, this is ridiculous that it’s even being hinted at or brought up again,” Gawronski said.

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“What we have in Manitoba is the most socially responsible service that’s out there, and we have the safest now, especially with the controlled entrances.

She said profits from liquor sales help provide for the province’s hospitals, healthcare, and roads.

“At a time when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, where the premier keeps talking about the millions and millions it’s going to cost us to get over COVID, why would we even think to have any of the profits from this go into private pockets?”

Click to play video: 'Manitoba Speech from the Throne' Manitoba Speech from the Throne
Manitoba Speech from the Throne – Oct 7, 2020

 

 

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