The government says it won't privatize its 79 liquor stores, but new stores will be in private hands. (CBC)

The government says from now on, any new liquor stores will be privately-owned — although the Opposition NDP says that will means fewer public dollars for health, education and highways.

On Monday, the government said it would give the green light to three more privately-owned liquor stores — one in Regina and two in Saskatoon.

Donna Harpauer, the minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, told the legislature the government is not privatizing any of the existing 79 government-owned liquor stores. But new stores will be in private hands, she said.

"What we are doing is, any new stores within our province will be privately-owned, Mr. Speaker, not unlike the 185 private businesses that are already retailing alcohol beverages within our province," she said.  

NDP MLA Buckley Belanger said it would be a lost opportunity, because publicly-owned liquor stores bring millions of dollars into government coffers.

'Any new stores within our province will be privately owned.' —SLGA Minister Donna Harpauer

"From those revenues of course we have education and health care and highways spending," Belanger said.

Belanger said the government is also giving private stores a competitive advantage by allowing them to stay open longer. He said the idea of private stores seems ideologically-driven rather than motivated by common sense.

Harpauer said the government wants to build hospitals, schools and nursing homes, not liquor stores.

"We have a growing province for the first time in literally decades," she said. "And the analysis is quite simple — new liquor store or a new school. We know what the NDP would do. Quite frankly, in Riversdale they went with a new liquor store and they neglected St. Mary School."