Do We Need Private Liquor Sales In MB?

There is an impression, often a correct one, that governments and consumers don’t mix. Let government set the rules and the taxes and allow the private sector handle retail and service delivery.

I buy into that, generally. When cannabis was legalized, allowing private retailers to distribute it was undoubtedly the right approach. I have to be honest though: I think Manitoba Liquor Marts do a pretty good job of selling booze.

A few days ago, Premier Brian Pallister told CJOB that he was considering privatizing liquor sales in Manitoba. “Government delivery … hasn’t always been famously associated with customer service” he said. “If we can give people better choice and a competitive price on a liquor product, on an alcohol product, that’s a good thing.”

So I have a question for you, the reader: can you name one liquor label that Liquor Marts do not carry? Certainly there are some rum or tequila connoisseurs in the city. I worked with one — he had a bar stocked with rums I had never heard of. He also had a dizzying variety of hot sauces, the majority of which are not available in Winnipeg despite the fact that hot sauce sales are not controlled by the government.

The point is that the selection of booze at Winnipeg area Liquor Marts is holding very few people back. Service, from my experience at least, has been pretty good as well. Locations are generally well staffed. Perhaps not super-knowledgeable, but willing to help.

In terms of coverage, the vast majority of Winnipeggers live within 2 km of a store. If not walking distance then likely on the way home from work.

I’ve been in cities with private booze sales, and what I’ve seen are more stores — sometimes mere blocks away from one another — but minimally staffed, basically selling the same stuff, and sometimes kinda sketchy looking.

I don’t know that we would see a big improvement in selection or service if we opened things up here … generally … there might be a couple exceptions. For example:

  1. I could see a boutique Scotch/Whisky store doing okay, maybe on Academy Ave. or someplace like that. Scotch especially is one liquor that people like to collect and experiment with, and it tends to be more expensive than other booze and with a lot more variability in price from one place to another. It might be nice to have more choice and competition in this area.
  2. We are still lagging behind in beer retail. Manitoba Liquor Marts stocks a much better selection of beer than they used to, but man those walk-in refrigerated rooms that you see elsewhere sure are nice. In Manitoba you have to choose between a decent selection of warm beer at the LC or a poor selection of cold beer at the hotel vendor.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, there is room for improvement, but privatizing liquor sales is largely a case of fixing something that isn’t broken. I’m not saying we shouldn’t look at it, I’m just saying we should be careful about it. Don’t throw the doors wide open because that’s what your ideology says we should do, but examine the short-comings look at how those can be addressed.

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