Saskatchewan to privatize 40 government-owned liquor stores
Government says it won't proceed until after the spring election
The government wants to privatize more than half of the 75 liquor stores it owns — which would be the biggest change to the liquor retailing system in many years.
Under the plan announced Wednesday morning, 40 stores will be sold to private operators, but it won't happen until after the next election. The announcement received a mixed reaction. The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union said it's a loss, while groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Association considered it a win.
The stores are in both rural locations and cities, including Regina and Saskatoon.
If the Saskatchewan Party is re-elected, the sales will proceed.
The plan also calls for a dozen new private stores in what the government calls "underserved communities" — including Regina and Saskatoon.
Liquor stores have long been a cash cow for the province, but the government says it will continue to bring in the same amount of money from booze in future.
The idea is to sell it wholesale to all of the stores and let them set their own prices.
As a result, people in Saskatchewan shouldn't expect Alberta-style prices on their booze, Liquor and Gaming Authority Minister Don McMorris said.
"You could do that. Alberta does it, nine other provinces don't," he said. "Nine other provinces go to what they think, and what we would think, would be a fairer rate."
Some government employees will lose their jobs. The government said the sell-off will affect 196 employees — or 102 full-time equivalents.
If those employees would like to buy a store, they will be given preferential treatment during the bidding process, McMorris said.
After some tinkering to Saskatchewan's alcohol retailing in recent years, the change announced Wednesday is the biggest shakeup yet.
Privatization of alcohol sales has long been a hot-button topic in Saskatchewan politics, and in the past, politicians were loathe to take that step.
However, the liquor system has actually been a hybrid of private and public for many years.
In addition to the 75 government-owned liquor stores, there are also private rural franchises, off-sale outlets at hotels, and a small number of private stores in Regina and Saskatoon.
The government has been looking at more private liquor sales for more than a year.
Everything from the status quo to full-scale, Alberta-style privatization of government-owned stores was on the table.
The option outlined Wednesday is somewhere in the middle.