Mixed response as Tories propose shift in liquor sales

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A move to allow beer vendors and wine stores to also sell other types of liquor received a tepid response from those who say it doesn’t go far enough and criticism from those who fear it will shift some Crown-owned Liquor Mart profits that fund health and education to the private sector.

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A move to allow beer vendors and wine stores to also sell other types of liquor received a tepid response from those who say it doesn’t go far enough and criticism from those who fear it will shift some Crown-owned Liquor Mart profits that fund health and education to the private sector.

On Monday, the Progressive Conservative government introduced Bill 9 (Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Amendment and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation Amendment Act).

“What this bill does is enable the hundreds of existing licences to be able to sell liquor, spirits, wine and beer — a complete offering,” John Graham, director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada’s Prairie region, said Monday at the Manitoba legislature.

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On Monday, the Progressive Conservative government introduced Bill 9 (Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Amendment and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation Amendment Act).

“What it doesn’t do is really improve convenience for Manitobans, the way it happens around the world and across Canada, where grocery stores would be able to sell a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer.”

The council has been advocating for liquor sales in grocery stores for convenience sake — something Manitobans across all party lines would like to see, according to its polling research, said Graham.

The legislation would also allow craft breweries and those with a manufacturer’s licence to obtain another licence to operate a liquor store at their premises or nearby, with Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority approval.

The bill also says agreements between liquor retailers “may include” provisions for security measures the retailer would be required to implement.

Scott Jocelyn, president and chief executive officer of the Manitoba Hotel Association, said members like the new opportunities to sell more products but want to know what measures may be required to expand liquor sales.

“If we have to do a lot of security stuff and the (profit) margins are the same, it will make it challenging and not as enticing to jump into the market.”

The Tory minister responsible for MLL, Andrew Smith, said security requirements for expanded liquor licences will be determined by the Crown corporation and the particular retailer “on a case-by-case basis.”

“Different retailers have different needs,” said Smith, adding more legislation expanding liquor sales requires more consultation with stakeholders and may be coming this session. “Stay tuned.”

The Opposition called Monday’s bill a “rehash” of previously introduced legislation, including one that would’ve allowed liquor sales at convenience stores.

“We’re proud we fought to have that removed,” NDP liquor and lotteries critic Adrien Sala said Monday, after question period.

The latest PC bill would expand private liquor sales, and shift some of the profits from provincial coffers that fund public services to the private sector, he said.

“It’s important that Manitobans know that 11 per cent of every single bottle that’s sold in an (MLL retail outlet) is profit that goes to help pay for our health care and our education system. This government seems very intent on trying to shift those profits to private business owners,” the NDP MLA said.

“We need those profits to help to pay for the services Manitobans rely on. If we start sending millions of dollars worth of sales to private businesses, that’s putting really good jobs at our Liquor Marts at risk.”

The union representing Liquor Mart workers said the government shouldn’t mess with success.

Customer service surveys consistently show more than 90 per cent of Manitobans are very happy with the service and professionalism provided, Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Kyle Ross said in an email Monday.

“The current model of alcohol sales works very well for Manitoba, delivering $316 million in annual profits that help the Manitoba government pay for public services like health care and education,” the statement said.

“Privatizing more liquor sales will just hand more of these profits over to private investors and create more pressure to cut provincial services.”

Meanwhile, the government also introduced legislation to repeal the social responsibility fee charged on cannabis sales.

“Things have evolved,” Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said after question period. “Now is the appropriate time to look at a new path and look at a different taxation regime.”

— with files from Danielle Da Silva

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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