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Manitoba NDP Want to Stop Expanded Private Liquor Sales, Review Private Cannabis

April 17, 2023 5:43 PM | The Canadian Press

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Liquor Store

A person walks past shelves of bottles of alcohol on display at an outlet in Ottawa on Thursday, March 19, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s plan to expand private sales of liquor is on hold, and its private retail system for cannabis may come under review after an upcoming election.

The Opposition New Democrats said Monday they will use procedural rules in the legislature to delay passage of two liquor bills beyond the summer break. And with an election scheduled for Oct. 3, the bills are almost certain not to pass before Manitobans go to the polls.

“What we don’t want is people being able to pick up a bottle of vodka at the 7-Eleven at two in the morning, or having to deal with that when they take their kids there for a Slurpee after school,” said Lisa Naylor, NDP critic for liquor and lotteries.

One of the bills would pave the way for a pilot project in which liquor would be available in more retail environments such as corner stores or grocery stores. The second bill would allow private beer vendors and specialty wine stores to sell a wider range of alcohol products.

The Progressive Conservative government said the bills are simply a response to consumer demand for one-stop shopping that would bring Manitoba more in line with other provinces.

“We want to stand on the side of Manitobans, allowing Manitobans to have more choice, more convenience,” Andrew Smith, the minister for liquor and lotteries, said. He accused the NDP of favouring a “nanny state” approach.

Manitoba’s current system of alcohol sales is a mixture of private and public. In most urban areas, only government-run stores sell a full range of booze — beer, wine and hard liquor. There are many private beer vendors and small breweries, as well as a small number of private wine stores.

In many rural areas, private retailers are licensed to sell a full range of products.

The Retail Council of Canada said a more open market in urban areas is overdue.

“It would have provided Manitobans with an opportunity to catch up to, really, what the rest of the world is experiencing with that convenience (of) being able to buy liquor with their groceries,” council spokesman John Graham said.

The New Democrats have been leading in opinion polls for more than two years and have begun to spell out a few measures they would take if they win the upcoming election.

Naylor said Monday that an NDP government would take a look at the cannabis retail system in Manitoba, which is done completely through private stores.

“I think it’s safe to say that’s something we need to look at closely,” Naylor said.

“We understand that private sales of cannabis were brought in under the PC government, and I know that that’s not the norm across the whole country. And so, I think it’s safe to say that if we’re elected, we’ll take a close look at all of the decisions that were made regarding cannabis when we weren’t the ones at the table making those decisions.”

Under legislature rules, the Opposition can delay up to five bills beyond the summer break. Normally, that pushes back the bills’ passage until the fall. But with an election this year, the delayed bills may not come to a final vote.

Other bills being delayed by the NDP include one that would set up a provincial regulatory and licensing system for supervised drug consumption sites and addiction treatment facilities. Another bill would change conflict of interest rules for politicians.

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