Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst waded into the debate over opening more private wine stores in Manitoba during a public meeting recently over the future and regulation of liquor and gaming in Manitoba.
As reported in the Brandon Sun, Decter Hirst mentioned that Brandon should have private wine stores available to its citizens just like Winnipeg does.
In my view, the issue isn’t that Brandon should have private wine stores because Winnipeg does — it is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The moratorium on private wine stores should remain in place. I believe the revenue from the sale of beverage alcohol in Manitoba should be used for the benefit of all Manitobans — not to line the pockets of private interests.
Last year, approximately $250 million from the Manitoba Liquor Commission was handed over to the province to help fund health care, education, social services, and programs that help support and improve our communities. The $11-million provincial contribution to improving Highway 10 or the expansion at the Brandon Correctional Centre were possible in part because profits from the sale of beverage alcohol are used to address our priorities as Manitobans.
And it’s not just that we need the revenue in this province, either. We’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize that there are the negative social consequences that other provinces have experienced as a result of their alcohol privatization efforts. Those jurisdictions have failed to recognize that alcohol is different from other consumer products, and they have opted instead to place their faith solely in the market system. This aspect of the debate cannot, and should not, be underestimated.
In Alberta, after privatization, the proliferation of liquor outlets was staggering — in fact, they tripled. After a decade of privatization in Alberta, the province had the highest alcohol consumption rate among Canadian provinces, and not surprisingly there was a marked increase in the number of alcohol-related criminal offences, including liquor store break-ins and sales to minors. In a recent presentation to the Ontario government, Norman Giesbrecht, the senior scientist at Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, emphasized his belief that alcohol wasn’t an ordinary commodity, calling it “a substantial contributor to social problems, trauma and chronic disease.”
In order to reduce the harm from alcohol, he said, we need to continue to give priority to population level evidence-based policies, including avoiding privatizing alcohol retailing and not increasing the density of alcohol outlets. His recommendation: Ensure that government decisions around alcohol are made in the public interest and informed by a public health perspective.
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers has also adopted a national policy strongly supporting the sale of alcoholthrough provincial liquor boards instead of private retailers. As for price, in B.C. consumers pay “tens of millions more dollars per year,” according to the Consumers Association of Canada (B.C.), when they shop at private liquor outlets. A 2006 survey by the Consumers Association found prices were between 10 per cent and 20 per cent (and for some products up to 35 per cent) higher when they compared 43 products at private stores as compared to government stores.
Let’s be clear: most people can enjoy a sociable drink now and again without negative consequence (scientific research says responsible alcohol consumption may improve health), and wouldn’t it be great if we could just add a bottle of wine to the shopping list. Here in Brandon, it pretty much already is that simple.
The Liquor Marts specialty wine store located in one of the busiest shopping districts in the city already offers an expansive selection of quality wines, available from professionally trained product consultants that know what they’re talking about. As for the convenience of the Liquor Marts kiosk service at grocery stores, I absolutely think Brandon should be a location to receive this convenience.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union has also made this point to government: a greater share of profits from the sale of beverage alcohol in Manitoba should be invested in the work of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba to deal with addictions issues. This occurs now with profits from Manitoba Lotteries that are used to deal with problem gambling, but not with the sale of beverage alcohol.
Clearly Manitobans have a stake in this debate, and many have a strong opinion on this issue. As the government revamps legislation around the future of the liquor industry in our province, they should adopt legislation ensuring that Manitobans are given a voice (through a referendum) in any decision that will decide on the future privatization attempts. This is a decision that will no doubt affect their families, communities and quality of life.
Lois Wales, president
Manitoba Government and
General Employees’ Union
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 10, 2012