By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitobans may soon be able to buy alcohol at more places and pick up a variety of booze without running to different stores.
The Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill Thursday that could allow private beer vendors to sell a full range of alcohol, including wine and spirits. Similarly, private wine stores would be allowed to stock spirits and beer.
The changes would put the private stores in line with government-run outlets, which already offer all types of liquor products.
“This will just expand Manitobans’ ability to have access and to have more convenience when you’re going shopping,” said Scott Fielding, the minister responsible for liquor and lotteries.
The bill would also let beer vendors apply for a new agreement with the province that would eliminate the requirement for them to have a hotel on site.
The proposed law would also give the government the authority to run a five-year pilot project under which other retailers, possibly including grocery or convenience stores, could sell alcohol.
“We haven’t specifically said what that would look like,” Fielding said, adding there will be public consultations before the pilot project is formalized.
“That could be (grocery stores), it could be smaller things. You could have a campground for instance.”
The Retail Council of Canada said it was disappointed that Manitoba is not moving immediately to allow alcohol in more stores. Most other provinces allow people to pick up a bottle of wine while grocery shopping, spokesperson John Graham said.
The Manitoba Hotel Association was pleased with the expanded line of liquor to be made available to its beer-vendor members. But the group warned against opening up liquor sales to other retailers.
“We certainly don’t want to compete with grocery stores. I think that would be quite a mountain for us to climb,” association president Scott Jocelyn said.
The Opposition New Democrats said they are concerned the government is moving to privatize liquor sales and said, if booze is eventually available in corner stores, the risk of sales to children could increase.
Fielding said the government will not close government-run liquor stores or cut staff and made the commitment in a letter to the liquor workers’ union.
He also said he does not expect any effect on the roughly $320-million dollar liquor sales generated for the government. The province makes much of its money through sales taxes and a wholesale markup on prices.
Manitoba’s current liquor system is a mix of public and private, with private stores selling the majority of volume.
There are 63 government-run Liquor Marts — mostly larger high-volume stores in urban areas. There are 240 private beer vendors at hotels, eight private wine stores and 168 private rural liquor stores.