Manitoba

Close downtown Winnipeg Liquor Mart to help fight addiction: Manitoba Liberal leader

The Manitoba Liberals are asking the government to consider closing a downtown Winnipeg liquor store that has been criticized for selling cheap booze to people struggling with addiction.

Province abetting major health problem by selling low-cost sherry with high alcohol content: Dougald Lamont

A lineup forms outside the Ellice Liquor Mart on a 2018 morning. The Manitoba Liberals say the store 'is selling high-alcohol, low-cost booze to essentially cater to a vulnerable population,' and say it should be closed. (Warren Kay/CBC)

The Manitoba Liberals are asking the government to consider closing a downtown Winnipeg liquor store that has been criticized for selling cheap booze to people struggling with addiction.

As CBC reported last year, the Liquor Mart on Ellice Avenue and Hargrave Street sells a remarkable volume of a low-priced brand of sherry with a high alcohol content.

The aftermath is seen in bottles strewn about, and even paramedics responding to people who have passed out, CBC News reported.

"Public intoxication is often driven by alcohol and you actually have the government owning a liquor store that is selling high-alcohol, low-cost booze to essentially cater to a vulnerable population," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont told reporters, after suggesting the store's closure during question period on Tuesday.

"We do talk about meth, but alcohol is an enormous problem. We've seen all those recent break-ins and robberies that's been an ongoing problem at Liquor Marts."

Lamont wasn't suggesting that government should get out of the business of selling alcohol, but he argued the province is sidestepping its ethical duty by failing to address a serious issue at the Ellice location in particular. He said the government should ask Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries to consider closing the store.

The idea was first presented to him by an elected official with the City of Winnipeg, Lamont said, but he wouldn't share that person's name on Tuesday without permission.

On Wednesday, Lamont revealed the person who spoke to him was Mayor Brian Bowman. A spokesperson for the mayor confirmed Bowman supports closing retail sales at the Ellice Avenue Liquor Mart.

The Ellice store sold 103,553 bottles of the sherry — London Westminster Canadian Apera — from 2015-17, according to internal documents obtained by CBC last year. Only 378 bottles were sold in the same period at a St. Vital location.

The Liquor Mart on Ellice sold 103,553 bottles of London Westminster Canadian Apera from 2015-2017. Only 378 bottles were sold in the same period at the St. Vital Square Liquor Mart. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

At the time, Neil McArthur, director at the Centre for Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, argued that Liquor & Lotteries was making money off people with serious health problems.

"They know that — the statistics tell a clear story — so they are not fulfilling the responsibilities that they have, both morally and that was created by the legislation." 

Don't make addictions worse: Lamont

When asked on Tuesday if the government should close the store or yank the sherry off shelves instead, Lamont said "one or the other" would work.

Government "should not be in the business of making the problem worse," he said.

Lamont acknowledged that neither choice would prevent people from finding alcohol to buy, and any response from the government should consider an effective treatment option. He suggested a managed alcohol program, which provides a daily dose of alcohol to those who won't — or can't — stop drinking.

"We have to be providing effective addiction services for people who do have addictions problems," Lamont said.

The government deferred CBC's request for comment on late Tuesday afternoon to Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries. CBC has requested comment from the agency.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the person who presented the idea of closing the downtown Liquor Mart to Dougald Lamont was a city councillor, when in fact it was the mayor.
    Oct 02, 2019 8:16 PM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Austin Grabish

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