Provincial government pitches retail alcohol sales pilot project
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Manitobans may soon be able to put a bottle of rye or scotch into their grocery cart with eggs and bread purchases — or even where they buy lumber or shoes.
On Thursday, the Manitoba government introduced Bill 30 to amend both the province’s Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act and the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation Act to allow the sale of alcohol at retail stores.
Minister of Municipal Relations Andrew Smith, also minister responsible for MLL, said the legislation would allow for a five-year pilot program, where select retail outlets would be permitted to sell some, or all, the products carried by Liquor Marts.
Details of which stores could sell alcohol, the locations, types of products, and the maximum number of retailers will be specified in regulations after the bill passes and following a 45-day public consultation period, Smith said.
“It’s important to get stakeholder feedback in a formal consultation phase process and, of course, what Manitobans at large think,” Smith said.
“This is going to be an idea to test the market but also test what Manitobans want.”
Bill 30 is the Progressive Conservative government’s latest attempt to modernize and expand private liquor sales. A bill introduced last spring to expand liquor sales to beer vendors and private wine stores and to launch a retail pilot project died when the legislative session concluded last fall.
This time around, the Tories chose to introduce two bills with the same goals.
Lawmakers have until June 1 to pass the bills before the house rises for the summer. A general election is scheduled for Oct. 3.
Bill 9, which was introduced in November and received second reading last week, would allow existing beer vendors, private wine stores and 168 rural liquor vendors and 50 craft liquor manufacturers to sell the full range of MLL products.
“My intent is to have both of them pass. Now that’s up to the opposition whether they go with it,” Smith said.
Smith said if Bill 30 becomes law it will create more private-sector opportunities and jobs. MLL is not anticipating any loss of profit as a result of the legislation, he added.
“I see the spin-offs being nothing but positive when it comes to the economy.”
Retail Council of Canada government relations director John Graham said public opinion research indicates Manitobans want to be able buy beer and wine at their local grocery store.
“Urban Manitoba is this tiny island across Canada and almost around the world whose residents don’t have access to being able to buy alcohol while shopping for groceries,” Graham said.
Retailers agree a comprehensive consultation process is appropriate and want the pilot to be a success, he said.
“We believe Bill 30 reflects the desires of Manitobans to have that convenience,” Graham said. “However, we know that it’s an election year and we’ll be cheering the bill on.”
Meantime, Munther Zeid, owner of FoodFare stores in Winnipeg, said while he might consider selling liquor at his locations, there are concerns.
“As a business owner, it is an interesting thing. It could generate a lot of sales and a little bit of extra profit. But let’s think about the teenagers working in the stores — do you want to put them in that type of harm or danger?” Zeid said Thursday.
If he was to sell liquor, he would create a separate room for the sales and make sure identification is checked for a person’s age before letting a limited number of people at a time into the space, he said.
“I don’t think I would make it open where you would have it on a shelf,” Zeid said. “Right now, some people take meat and cheese.
“But I also have other questions: can I undercut the Liquor Mart? Can I sell at any price I want? I’d want to know more.”
Smith declined to comment on what may happen to wholesale mark-ups for products sold under the pilot project.
He said safety is top of mind for his government, and the proposed legislation anticipates retailers will work with MLL to address security measures as part of retail licence.
“It’s going to be a business decision for the individual retailer. Every individual retailer will probably have different needs, so they’re going to work… with (MLL) on what those needs are to make sure both their staff, themselves and their customers are safe,” he said.
NDP critic Lisa Naylor said Manitobans could expect to see alcohol sold at their local convenience store under Bill 30, including next to schools.
“That doesn’t really seem like the place you should be having a fridge full of cans of beer or a shelf full of 40-ouncers,” the MLA for Wolseley said. “We think there’s concerns with community safety by introducing liquor into these situations.”
Instead, Naylor suggested additional Liquor Mart Express locations could be opened in grocery stores, as also proposed by the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, to address concerns over convenience and market demands.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.