'We hope the Ontario government will do the right thing and keep the LCBO in public hands.' - NUPGE's Larry Brown.
Ottawa (12 July 2010) - Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is being urged by union leaders representing liquor board workers in eight of Canada's 10 provinces to keep the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) in public hands for the good of all citizens in the province.
The unions, representing employees of publicly-run liquor agencies in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C., have sent a joint letter to the premier.
The union representing Ontario liquor employees, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), is already campaigning hard against privatization of the LCBO and other major Crown corporations.
The only province not represented in the appeal to the Ontario premier is Alberta, where liquor sales were privatized by the Conservative government of Ralph Klein in the 1990s, resulting in what the unions describe as "great cost to the province."
Drunk driving convictions and sales to minors rose following privatization in Alberta. Liquor profits for taxpayers fell and consumers ended up paying more in many cases for products. Employees in most privatized outlets in Alberta have no union, far lower pay and benefits and less job security – thus spending less at local businesses where they live.
Six of the union leaders signing the letter represent Components of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).
They include Darryl Walker, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE), Bob Bymoen, president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union (SGEU/NUPGE), Peter Olfert, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU/NUPGE), Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU/NUPGE), Shelley Ward, president of the P.E.I. Union of Public Sector Employees (PEIUPSE/NUPGE) and Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE/NUPGE).
The remaining two leaders signing the letter are Katia Lelièvre, head of the Syndicat des employé(e)s de magasins et de bureaux de la SAQ (SEMB-SAQ) in Quebec and Martha Thompson, president of Local 963 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE NB Liquor Workers).
The letter follows a national meeting of union representatives employed in the various public liquor boards across the country. It was sponsored by NUPGE last month in Toronto.
"This is a unique appeal on behalf of employees who know the industry best and who serve the public well in all parts of our country," says Larry Brown, NUPGE's national secretary treasurer.
"The value of the public liquor boards are there for all to see. Everyone benefits from public liquor boards, including taxpayers who reap billions in profits every year to help pay for vital public services across the country. We hope the Ontario government will do the right thing and keep the LCBO – and other major Crown corporations – fully in public hands."
The letter to Premier McGuinty lays out a strong case against privatization, staring with the fact that the LCBO is a "cash cow" generating roughly $1.4 billion annually for the Ontario treasury.
"It makes good sense for government to have revenue streams other than taxes. Losing these sources of income can only mean deservedly unpopular service cuts, higher taxes, or both," the letter argues, noting that profits generated by Crown corporations have been used for many years to help build roads, schools, hospitals and public services such as health care.
The letter also argues that one of the most damaging results of privatization would be the destruction of good unionized jobs that support local communities, replaced by lower-paid, part-time jobs with reduced job security.
Privatization of the LCBO and other Crown corporations would also increase the likelihood of ownership by international investors, streaming profits abroad and weakening the provincial economy further.
As the Alberta experience has proven in the case of liquor sales, privatization would also worsen related social costs.
"LCBO employees are the front line in the prevention of under-age drinking in Ontario and routinely refuse service to intoxicated persons," the letter notes.
"Little wonder then that organizations ranging from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to public health associations to addiction services to the police have made frequent statements in support of a publicly-run alcohol system."
The letter also warns against partial privatization of Crown corporations, which recent news reports indicate is being considered by the Ontario cabinet.
"We must caution against this approach in the strongest possible terms. Selling (say) 20% of these assets will open the door to the sale of 100% of them. Indeed, we believe that a partial sale now is guaranteed to lead to a total sell-off before long," the letter says.
"The case of Petro-Canada is instructive. In 1991, the Conservative government under Brian Mulroney began selling shares in the company. In 2004, the Liberals under Paul Martin sold off the last public stake in the company."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
• Letter from union leaders to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty