Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries leaves $2M for addiction treatment and research unspent
'There’s no reason the money is not being spent,' says former research council member
Even though Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries is required by law to allocate two per cent of its net income to addictions research and treatment, the Crown corporation has been cutting back its spending on social responsibility.
The government introduced the requirement in 2013, and since then the social responsibility budget has reached about $12 million. But in 2015, $869,000 was left unspent, and that amount more than doubled in the past year to $2.1 million, according to MLL's annual reports.
"There's no reason the money is not being spent," said Leah Gazan, who used to sit on the research council of MLL's gambling research program.
"The provincial government makes a lot of money off gaming and alcohol consumption in this province," she said.
"If you're making money off these kind of industries that can potentially harm people then you really need to invest to make sure that people are safe," said Gazan.
"There are many areas where they could invest money, not just in terms of harm reduction but also dealing with issues that arise out of these kind of industries."
Gazan's term on the gambling research council was already over when MLL quietly phased it out in 2018. The program had a $1-million annual budget for academic studies into responsible gambling, problem-gambling prevention and treatment.
Unspent money 'something to be proud of': MLL
Bev Mehmel, director of corporate responsibility for MLL, isn't concerned about the amounts that have been spent.
"I think it's actually something to be proud of. We're very fiscally responsible," said Mehmel, adding the annual unspent carry-over is an acceptable variance in most businesses.
"With any luck we will have less unspent next year. That would be our hope and our goal," she said.
Linda Taylor was surprised to find out the gambling research program she chaired up until last November has been phased out.
"We were trying to do our best to fund research which we felt was really valuable in preventing gambling problems," said Taylor, who oversaw the granting of hundreds of thousands of dollars for gambling research.
Taylor says the budget was underspent when she was on the council, but that was partly because the people who were supposed to promote the program were doing other things.
"The staff were being utilized in other ways by Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries and so there wasn't enough outreach, in my view, going on," said Taylor.
'A serious problem'
She questions the wisdom of leaving so much money on the table.
"I don't think anybody would dispute that problem gambling is a problem in this province and it is really a serious problem for families that are affected by this," she said.
"Families can break up, people can become severely depressed. Some people have seemingly committed suicide as a result of gambling issues."
The social responsibility fund is not just about research, it's also supposed to help addicts get treatment.
The amount of money given to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba's alcohol treatment centres and the University of Manitoba for FASD research decreased between 2015 and 2017, the annual reports show.
Annual spending on FASD research went from nearly half a million dollars in 2015 to $127,000 this past year. The decrease is due to the way a $1.35-million research grant was allocated over a three year period, according to Mehmel.
AFM's Eaglewood Addictions Centre in Thompson and River Point Centre in Winnipeg saw a slight drop in funding between 2015 and the past year, while programs geared to teens at Winnipeg's Marymound have not seen an increase since 2015.
The only figure that has consistently gone up is internal MLL spending on operating and public awareness. That spending — which goes to public relations campaigns like Game Sense and With Child, Without Alcohol, as well as some MLL staff salaries and conference attendance — has increased 18 per cent over the last three years.
Mehmel says MLL is open to boosting funding if groups present a good case.
"We would look at what would be the rationale for increasing. To date, we haven't received any requests."