07/12/2012 11:22 EDT | Updated 09/11/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. Liberals deny claim lobbyists behind booze plan

The B.C. government denies lobbyists are pushing a plan to privatize the province's Liquor Distribution Branch, as the Opposition NDP alleges.

NDP critic Shane Simpson says the plan was never on the government's radar until the province was approached by a company called Exel Logistics, which operates Alberta's liquor distribution system.

Simpson says Freedom of Information documents show the sale got the green light after a representative of Exel — partly owned by Liberal party insider Patrick Kinsella — met Solicitor General Shirley Bond last July.

"And shortly after that period, we all of a sudden have this process moving forward of the privatization of the liquor distribution system," Simpson said Thursday.

But Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid denies the privatization plan has been tainted.

The government was already considering privatizing the liquor warehouse business before Exel made its pitch in order to save money as part of a plan to balance its books, MacDiarmid said.

"The warehouses themselves are quite old, but the property they are on is quite valuable."

Contract awarded this fall

The government has said that the sale of the warehouses alone could save taxpayers $50 million.

MacDiarmid also said the process to evaluate private bids for the liquor branch will be fair and will be conducted by senior civil servants, not elected government members.

The B.C. Government Employees’ Union, representing liquor branch workers, isn't convinced there's corruption, but says privatization is bad for consumers’ bottom line.

"We believe at the end of the day, it would mean an increases in prices to people in British Columbia," said BCGEU President Darryl Walker.

A 10-year monopoly contract is to be awarded in October.