To highlight the benefits of an expanded private retail system, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) is extolling more choices, convenience and competitive pricing for adults looking to buy booze in Saskatchewan.
Changes to the way liquor is sold include the conversion of 40 government liquor stores into private liquor stores, along with the addition of 12 new private liquor stores in communities that the government had previously deemed underserved.
These changes will be affecting liquor sales close to home, with the construction of a new liquor store planned for Bienfait, and the conversion of a government liquor store to a private store planned for Stoughton.
“It’s all really driven by population growth. We’ve seen great growth in the Bienfait area, and because of that growth, we felt it was time for another store to be opened up, and another license to be granted,” said Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority minister Don McMorris, in a call with the Mercury. “Stoughton already has a liquor store, but it will be converted to a private liquor store, rather than one run by the province.”
McMorris noted that none of the changes will be implemented until after the next general election, in April 2016.
Donna Christianson, SLGA negotiating chair with the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU) doesn’t see the benefit to the new changes coming into effect for Saskatchewan liquor stores, though. She said the SGEU has called for an independent review of any changes to the liquor retailing model, and considers the upcoming changes about to be implemented a reckless move.
“What is this going to do to rural Saskatchewan? They’ve indicated there would be no change in revenue, but what does that mean for consumers?” said Christianson. “We need to bring forward that there are 210 families that’ll be affected by this privatization, and we’re already struggling with job losses in this province.”
In an SGEU media release, Christianson contended that profits from public liquor sales help go toward various infrastructure and facilities in the province, and, “the elimination of 40 public liquor stores will drain millions in revenue from Saskatchewan’s public coffers.”
McMorris said the motivation for the shift in how liquor stores are run is driven by the needs of customers. He noted the new changes were drafted up taking into account matters like a broader selection of products to choose from, more convenient store hours and locations and competitiveness in the pricing structure. He added that the changes have been drafted using feedback from the general public, customers and stakeholders, by taking into consideration their thoughts on liquor retail in Saskatchewan.
In a media release from the Government of Saskatchewan, McMorris noted that along with the upcoming changes, there will be a wholesale markup to liquor sales, intended to correct inequities that have existed among the province’s liquor retailers.
“We want to maintain our revenue neutrality for the provincial government,” stated McMorris. “This money goes to help cover the costs of health care, education and highways, and we need to keep that revenue at the same level, but in doing so, offer more choice, convenience and competitive prices.”
According to the media release, the current laws governing alcohol allow for alcohol to be sold by government liquor stores, full-line private stores, rural franchises and off-sale outlets. The rules governing which businesses get discounts and are required to abide by certain restrictions on what they can sell, what can be refrigerated, and what prices to charge were considered inefficient and unfair, and the new model will create a “level playing field” for liquor retailers. In light of the new laws, commercial permittees such as restaurants, sports facilities and convention centres will see restrictions lifted on what retailers they can buy products from, since they are currently required to buy from SLGA liquor stores and franchises.