The Saskatchewan government's announcement this week that all new liquor stores in the province will be privately owned is a step in the wrong direction, and a perfect example of the Sask Party's tendency to govern based on a blind adherence to ideology rather than a balanced weighing of the evidence.
No matter how you slice it – health impacts, alcohol consumption levels, quality jobs, or public revenue – any shift towards increasing the share of for-profit liquor vendors in the province is a losing proposition for the people of Saskatchewan.
A new study by the Parkland Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has detailed the benefits of public liquor stores and the costs of privatization. The study concludes, "Managing the supply of alcohol, both economically and physically, ensures the greatest level of social welfare, and evidence indicates a public liquor monopoly is institutionally superior to succeed at this objective.”
A couple of important points to keep in mind when weighing the government's recent actions:
Privatizing liquor sales leads to higher levels of alcohol consumption, which brings with it a host of social costs while increasing the burden on the health care and justice systems. Alberta, which became the first Canadian jurisdiction to privatize liquor sales in 1993, has the highest per-capita liquor consumption, while B.C., which began introducing private liquor stores in 2003, has higher-than-average consumption rates.
Private liquor stores replace quality, full-time jobs with low-paying, part-time jobs. "The studies agree there are more workers in liquor retail [in Alberta post-privatization], but they work fewer hours, have fewer benefits, and lower salaries than did Alberta government workers. So workers, by and large, are not better off."
Other highlighted findings from the study include:
- Since privatization, Alberta has forgone nearly $1.5 billion in tax revenue. In contrast Saskatchewan’s per capita liquor revenue has increased over the same time period.
- Public stores consistently demonstrate higher compliance rates than private stores in regards to sales to minors or intoxicated patrons. In BC, public stores had an average compliance rate of 70% compared to only 35% for private stores. • After the 1993 liquor privatization in Alberta, Edmonton police reported double the amount of offences for minors in possession of alcohol.
- A public monopoly allows communities to control the density of liquor stores in their neighbourhoods. In contrast, liquor store density in BC after partial privatization increased 56.83%, while density in Alberta increased 72.18% post-privatization. In contrast, Saskatchewan’s liquor store density has actually decreased 11.10% in the past decade.
- A public monopoly also allows for the greater regulation of low-price, high alcohol-content products marketed to youth.
- A 2011 study by the Centre for Addictions Research for British Columbia, University of Victoria, found that each additional private liquor store per 1,000 residents 15 years and older increased local alcohol mortality by 27.5 per cent in B.C. between 2003 and 2008.
If you’re just choosing between the status quo and normalizing private liquor sales, the status quo look real good.