BIZWORLD

Hey, what’s go­ing on with the Saskatchewan liquor busi­ness th­ese days?

Moose Jaw Express.com - - News - By Ron Wal­ter For Moose Jaw Ex­press

Some­thing odd is hap­pen­ing to the Saskatchewan liquor sales busi­ness. When the prov­ince opened the re­tail liquor mar­ket to non-govern­ment op­er­a­tions, Moose Jaw was awarded an­other li­censed store.

Sobeys won the award and built a store on North Hill in the Civic Cen­tre Plaza de­vel­op­ment. The un­der­stand­ing among most Moose Jaw res­i­dents was this city would once again have two main liquor out­lets and the usual off sale out­lets.

That was fine for those peo­ple de­sir­ing a re­duc­tion in im­paired driv­ing and thus op­posed to eas­ier ac­cess to booze. Since that award, the num­ber of pri­vate liquor out­lets has tripled. Sobeys opened. Su­per Store opened on site and a South Hill bar con­verted most of its space to a large liquor store. That does not men­tion ex­pan­sion by off sale out­lets.

All this change has sort of snuck up on Moose Jaw, mak­ing liquor eas­ier to get and in­volv­ing price com­pe­ti­tion among liquor out­lets.

Re­cently, a pro­vin­cial me­dia out­let broke an­other news story on liquor re­tail­ing that sur­prised many res­i­dents.

When the prov­ince par­tially pri­va­tized the liquor busi­ness by award­ing li­cences to 50 pri­vate out­lets and clos­ing 40 ru­ral stores, even shut­ter­ing some quite prof­itable places, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gam­ing Au­thor­ity did not al­low trade or sale of the new li­cences.

Two years af­ter those store li­cences were awarded, the Saskatchewan govern­ment will lift that re­stric­tion. Liquor li­cences may be traded or sold as of Oct. 8, as long as the new owner stays within the com­mu­nity at­tached to the li­cence award. There will be no mov­ing of the store to an­other com­mu­nity, at least for now. Un­til now, a liquor re­tail per­mit could only be for govern­ment-op­er­ated, the new pri­vate stores, ho­tels or tav­erns. Ac­cord­ing to ru­mour, some Al­berta liquor chains, eager to ex­pand into a new mar­ket, are pre­pared to pay $800,000 just for a li­cence to open a booze out­let in this prov­ince.

The Saskatchewan Ho­tel and Hos­pi­tal­ity As­so­ci­a­tion is up in arms at what it de­scribes as a fun­da­men­tal change. The worry is that,in some towns own­ers will sell the lu­cra­tive per­mits, leav­ing the town with­out a ho­tel or with two op­er­a­tors that can’t make a go of it.

Cer­tainly, this pol­icy does no favours for ru­ral Saskatchewan and could in­tro­duce cut throat price cut­ting in ur­ban ar­eas. The whole pol­icy seems cal­cu­lated to pri­va­tize the re­tail liquor busi­ness in Saskatchewan, one way or the other. A govern­ment sur­vey showed Saskatchewan vot­ers are op­posed to pri­va­tiz­ing the re­tail liquor busi­ness, but not by as wide a mar­gin as with other Crown cor­po­ra­tions. Want­ing to lose the op­po­si­tion claim it will pri­va­tize Crown cor­po­ra­tions, the Saskatchewan Party ap­par­ently has cho­sen a back door pri­va­ti­za­tion. By al­low­ing wider pri­vate out­lets and fierce price com­pe­ti­tion, the govern­ment will make friends among booze con­sumers as did the buck a beer pol­icy in On­tario. Pri­vate out­lets and price com­pe­ti­tion will steal sales from the govern­ment liquor stores, even­tu­ally driv­ing some to cut staff or close.

In years to come, once govern­ment liquor store op­er­a­tions are no longer vi­able and al­most worth­less, the govern­ment will dump what is left.

Tax­pay­ers will lose in three ways: loss of prof­its along the way, loss in value of the stores and higher costs to deal with health­care and drunk driv­ing is­sues caused by eas­ier, cheaper ac­cess to booze.

And we won­der why the pub­lic trusts used car sales agents more than politi­cians.

Ron Wal­ter can be reached at ron­joy@ sask­tel.net

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