REGINA - Saskatchewan is adding three private liquor stores to its retail mix, but the Opposition says independently owned outlets will only skim money from the taxpayer's tab.
Donna Harpauer, the minister responsible the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, says the SLGA has been doing a good job managing increased volumes, but there are neighbourhoods that are still underserved. She says two private stores will be added in Saskatoon and one in Regina.
Liquor stores provide revenue to the province. But Harpauer says the addition of private stores will let the government spend money on other things, like health care and education.
"The revenue we collect is very significant in the province and of course that's been increasing as the sales increase," Harpauer said Monday.
"What we can not afford to do is to put in the capital outlay for new stores, so this is a great way of allowing the private sector to put in the capital dollars."
The private stores will be able to set their own prices — subject to social reference pricing. Social reference pricing means products cannot be sold for less than a set minimum price to reduce over consumption and binge drinking.
The private stores would be able to offer home delivery. They'll also be allowed to open from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.— longer than publicly-owned liquor stores.
The Opposition NDP suggested adding private stores would be costly for the province.
"The publicly-owned liquor stores generate a lot of profit for Saskatchewan people — I'm talking millions of dollars," said New Democrat Buckley Belanger.
"That money is used for education and health. Now my only argument is that those profits should be used for the people of Saskatchewan and once you start bringing in the private sector, you're forgoing those profits."
Belanger argued publicly-owned stores "pay their own way" by using profits to build or maintain stores and pay salaries.
There are already private franchises in Saskatchewan, but only in rural communities where the SLGA has allowed businesses to sell alcohol on its behalf.
Monday's announcement came after Premier Brad Wall hinted last month that new liquor stores were needed because of population growth, and he suggested all new stores could be private. However, Wall was quick to say existing provincially-owned liquor stores would not be privatized.
A report released last week said private liquor stores in Western Canada have higher prices than publicly owned stores, while also pouring less revenue into government coffers.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute released a report Oct. 30 that said privatization has also been particularly costly to Albertans. It said the Alberta government has foregone roughly $1.5 billion in liquor revenue since 1993.
Alberta privatized liquor stores in 1993, while B.C. curbed expansion of publicly-owned stores and started to allow private ones in 2003.
The Saskatchewan government says the private stores will be chosen through a request for proposals. Final decisions are expected by early spring.
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