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03/25/2021

Manitoba premier hints at wine in neighbourhood stores, more places to buy alcohol

Manitoba's move to increase private liquor sales could see wine sold in neighbourhood stores, Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday.

Pallister gave the example as one possible outcome of a bill before the legislature that would allow the government to enter into more liquor-selling agreements with private operators.

The aim, the premier said, is to give customers better service, more points of sale and more convenience.

“So a person could actually walk down to their neighbourhood store and pick up a bottle of wine, for example,” he said. “Our philosophy is, if you want to have a choice, we should give you one.”

Pallister said the proposed changes are not aimed at closing or selling government-run liquor stores. But Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton said he could not rule that out, because consultations are ongoing with Crown-owned Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.

“We're in the middle of consultations with stakeholders ... and naturally I wouldn't prejudge the outcome of those discussions,” Wharton said.

Manitoba has a mix of private and public alcohol sales. There are many private beer vendors and craft breweries, eight licensed private wine stores, and some 50 government-run stores that sell a full range of beer, wine and spirits.

There are also, in many rural communities, private vendors licensed to sell a wide array of alcohol. The bill now before the legislature would expand that into cities as well.

The Opposition says further privatization would result in the loss of jobs at government-run stores and fail to provide any improvement to customers.

“The system as it stands works well. Manitobans are benefiting and there's no reason to shift to another model,” said Adrien Sala, NDP critic for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union launched an ad campaign last year to fight privatization.

The union has said public alcohol sales support good-paying jobs, help generate money for addictions-treatment programs, and are better at preventing minors from buying booze.