Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/8/2015 (1692 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba Liberal leader Rana Bokhari says, if elected, a provincial Liberal provincial government would look at making "substantial changes" in the way alcohol is sold in Manitoba, including potentially privatizing Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.
Bokhari also said her party will conduct a thorough review of how other jurisdictions handle liquor sales and distribution, and will be consulting Manitobans before presenting a final plan.
Hopefully her review will be thorough, because if it is, she will see — as many recent studies of liquor privatization in other provinces have demonstrated time and again — that the public liquor model is superior. Not only are prices cheaper in publicly owned agencies, but they are also better suited to safely handle the sale of alcohol to the public.
Studies of privatization in Alberta have shown privatization has led to higher prices as small businesses are being bought out by large corporations that charge more. Further, there has been a decrease in consumer choice (specialty products that don't sell in high volumes don't get shelf space), and an increase in social and policing costs — sales first, safety later.
David Campanella and Greg Flanagan's 2012 study: The economic and social consequences of liquor privatization in Western Canada, takes a closer look at these comparators for British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. In a price survey of common types and brands of liquor in these jurisdictions, they found B.C.'s private stores consistently averaged the highest price out of all, with private stores in Alberta "close behind." Publicly owned stores in B.C. had the lowest prices for the items measured, followed by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.
A 2014 Global News study found beer in Alberta's private stores was significantly more expensive than it was in Manitoba. And a 2014 Beer Store report, Convenience Store Alcohol Would Drive Prices Up, Government Revenue Down, found deregulated alcohol sales in Ontario "would drive up prices, harm communities and lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue." What did it say about selection? "There would be no benefit to offset the risks of deregulation. Not on price, or selection." Ontario's Beer Stores stock up to 330 brands, while the selection in Alberta is less than half that number.
Bokhari claims Manitobans are paying too much for alcohol. However, from 2002 to 2008, the prices of wine and spirits sold in Canadian liquor stores did not keep pace with inflation. Indeed, since 2009, they have trended below the inflation rate, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse's Analysis of Beverage Alcohol Sales in Canada, 2012.
The potential loss of revenue that comes along with privatization cannot be underestimated. In 2013-2014, the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission (now the Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba) had a net profit of $284.1 million (2013-2014 annual report). This doesn't go to shareholders — it goes back into the system to support the priorities of Manitobans that government provides every day, like health care, education, and infrastructure. How would we replace this revenue if our system was privatized?
Both the World Health Organization and Mothers Against Drunk Driving maintain public systems are preferred over private ones for reasons of public health and safety.
They do a better job of keeping alcohol out of minors' hands. Public liquor authorities provide resources for awareness campaigns about the negative health consequences of alcohol overconsumption, and for addictions treatment programs.
For all these reasons, it is puzzling the Manitoba Liberal leader has decided to open the door to privatizing our successful public liquor system. Study after study has shown the costs of privatization vastly outweigh continued investment in public liquor-control systems.
This isn't a road Manitobans want to go down.
Michelle Gawronsky is the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union.