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Liquor Mart union skeptically welcomes expansion of private sales

Income from alcohol sales could be taken from government coffers if legislation to expand private retail sales becomes law, warns the union representing Liquor Mart workers.

Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union President Kyle Ross said the province needs to back up its claims. Bill 42 would not have a substantial impact on the revenues of the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp.

“The numbers from yesterday’s announcement just don’t add up. It adds credibility to suggest that if you add 130 more locations in Winnipeg to buy liquor, it won’t affect the bottom line of the 36 stores in liquors that already exist,” Ross said Friday.

“Those profits are going somewhere, and the best place for that profit is invested in schools and hospitals.”

On Thursday, Scott Fielding, minister responsible for MLL, tabled legislation allowing private wine shops, beer vendors and rural liquor stores to sell the full range of products currently available in liquor stores.

Bill 42 would also establish the framework for grocery stores, convenience stores or other liquor stores as part of a five-year pilot project. Provincial revenue from MLL is not expected to take a substantial hit if the proposed legislation passes, Fielding said.

He also offered a guarantee to liquor store workers that all 63 stores would stay open and jobs would not be lost with the changes.

On Thursday, Fielding sent a letter to MGEU saying the proposed changes “will have no impact on the operation of (MLL)-owned Liquor Mart stores.”

The letter goes on to say that the state corporation’s strategic plan does not include any store closures or impacts on staff, and the bill does not change that focus.

Ross said the correspondence hasn’t allayed workers’ concerns.

“With the strategic plan, I’m sure they’re looking to the future, but those profits will disappear and then everything will change,” Ross said.

MLL officials estimate that liquor store market share could change by a few percentage points if Bill 42 passes and specialty beer vendors and wine stores begin selling products available in liquor stores.

The state-owned company hasn’t added retail space in a number of years and had no plans to add more stores, despite a growing population and rising demand.

Profit margins on some products are also expected to decline, but the company hopes to realize savings in other areas, including transportation, if the bill becomes law.

Sales are also expected to increase as new outlets come online, with Liquor Mart operations remaining stable, MLL officials said. Approximately 70% of alcohol products sold in Manitoba are already purchased from private vendors.

Ross said the province has yet to make a strong case for expanding private liquor sales. Instead of stealing sales from the state corporation, more Liquor Mart Express locations could be rolled out, if customer convenience is a concern.

“We see the system is balanced and generating revenue and benefits for Manitobans,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to see big-box grocery companies and retailers stepping in there.”

According to the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation, liquor operations provided more than $320 million in revenue to the provincial government in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

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Danielle DaSilva