Closing public liquor stores will be costly for Saskatchewan: President's Commentary

 

Tracey Sauer, SGEU PresidentSF rally flagsSGEU member speaking at SFL rallySGEU members at rally

by Bert Blundon, President

Ottawa (28 Nov 2022) – The announcement last month in the Saskatchewan Speech from The Throne that the provincial government will be closing all of the publicly owned liquor stores in the province was bad news for the people of Saskatchewan. If the provincial government is not stopped, everyone in the province will pay the price for this bad decision. 

When liquor stores are publicly owned, the profits go to support other public services like health care and education. The loss of these revenues will mean that Saskatchewan residents will see the services they rely on cut.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When all liquor and cannabis stores are private, the share of revenues going to support public services will drop.

This is what happened in Alberta. While Alberta has some of the highest prices in Canada for alcoholic beverages, the profits from those high prices aren’t going to support public services. Instead, that lack of publicly owned liquor stores has given the corporations that own private stores the leverage to successfully pressure the provincial government to reduce the revenue it receives from liquor sales.

A 2014 report estimated that copying what was done in Alberta, where all liquor stores were privatized, would have cost Saskatchewan $229.2 million between 2009 and 2013. The likelihood that revenue will drop hasn’t changed. Even though prices for the most popular items are higher in Alberta than in Saskatchewan the Saskatchewan government receives 50% more revenue per litre of alcohol sold in the province.

With the potential for a recession, and with the problems facing our health care system, the people of Saskatchewan cannot afford to give away hundreds of millions of dollars by privatizing all liquor stores.

If the Saskatchewan government is giving away valuable provincial services, there are also fears that Crown corporations and other public services will be targeted for privatization. As this experience has shown in provinces where services like electricity have been privatized, the public can see a dramatic decline in service levels.

There is also the consequence of privatization for workers and their communities. Workers in public liquor stores have modest incomes, but they still earn significantly more than workers in privately owned stores. That difference in wages makes a huge difference in people’s lives and in their ability to contribute to their communities. 

Instead of struggling to survive, the wages workers earn in publicly owned stores mean people are able to spend time with their families and volunteer in their communities. That becomes far more difficult when liquor stores are privatized, and the wages workers get may not even be enough to cover food and housing costs.

Public liquor stores also offer high-quality service. Because the focus is on serving the public, rather than maximizing profits, they do a better job of protecting underaged and vulnerable people. With a public system, people in all parts of the province, not just a few upscale urban neighbourhoods, benefit from the expertise of a highly trained, skilled, knowledgeable, and motivated workforce.

The only beneficiaries of liquor store privatization will be large corporations, including large grocery stores. The licences from the 34 public stores will be auctioned off. Based on recent auctions, prices will be high enough that only large corporations will be able to afford them.

Among the corporations that benefit from privatization of liquor stores are the largest grocery store chains in Canada — Empire Company and Loblaw. These corporations are already raking in huge profits at the expense of Canadians, and now the Saskatchewan government wants to boost their profits still more at the expense of Saskatchewan residents. 

This is outrageous. 

The members of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU/NUPGE) who are fighting to stop the 34 publicly owned liquor stores from closing aren’t just fighting to protect their fellow union members. They are fighting for everyone in Saskatchewan.
 

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 425,000 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.

While our Components are located from coast to coast, the office of the National Union of Public and General Employees is situated on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

We recognize and acknowledge the crimes that have been committed and the harm that has been done.

And, we dedicate ourselves, as a union, to moving forward in partnership with Indigenous Peoples in a spirit of reconciliation and striving for justice. — NUPGE