Albertans still debate liquor store privatization 20 years later

This weekend marks 20 years since Alberta privatized liquor stores but there's still disagreement over whether consumers are paying less.
A customer makes a purchase at the Keg 'n' Cork liquor store in south Edmonton. (CBC)

It’s been 20 years since the Klein government privatized liquor stores in Alberta, but there’s still disagreement over whether consumers are paying less.

Last year, the Parkland Institute compared Alberta prices with stores in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Research director Shannon Stunden Bower says the small survey showed that Albertans aren’t paying less.

"We found that the most expensive liquor is in B.C.'s private stores, second most expensive — Alberta," she said.   While the issue of price is still up for debate, many say access and selection have improved.

There are more stores, and some stay open later than government-run liquor stores in Ontario, for example.

Lionel Usunier, owner of the Keg 'n' Cork liquor store in south Edmonton, says consumers can now choose from a wider selection of wine, beer and spirits.

"Selection is much, much greater than it was before privatization," he said. "

"I remember the days ... 1980, 1982, where we had to wait outside at Christmas time and they'd slowly let you in as the crowds dissipated. It's much more accessible and of greater variety."

The Alberta Liquor Control Board operated 208 stores before privatization.

According to the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission,  there were 1,317 privately-run stores across the province in June 2013.