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Publicly owned liquor stores work for Manitoba

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With the provincial election around the corner, parties are gearing up with promises for Manitobans. The Liberal leader, Rana Bokhari, is promising to turn liquor sales into private business. The Conservatives and NDP have stated they will not privatize liquor stores. As a social work student, former employee of Manitoba Liquor Control Commission and current employee at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, I am concerned.

Why would Manitoba Liberals be interested in turning the MLCC from public service to private business? What are the motives behind this move? While in school I was employed with the MLCC for approximately three years as a part-time employee. The hours were flexible, the wages were livable and the benefits were top notch. The MLCC was my first experience being employed by a public service and to top it off I was part of a union. The union fought for our rights as employees and ensured we had proper benefits and wages for the work we performed. I was grateful for a job where I felt heard and represented by my union to the company.

I was still employed by the MLCC when the Manitoba Liberals unveiled their plan that if elected, they would make liquor sales private. I will be honest; I was concerned for my job. Most Manitobans know that working at the MLCC is a good job. I was concerned my wage, benefits and rights as a worker would drastically change if the Liberals were allowed to make good on their promise.

It is important to note that a well-paying job is good for the economy. It allows employees, such as those at the MLCC, to be contributing consumers. Rana Bokhari and the Liberal party promise to grow Manitoba's middle class by ensuring Manitobans have the opportunity to stay, invest and contribute to the economic success of Manitoba. It seems counterintuitive -- if the goal is to increase economic success through supporting the middle class -- to shrink the public system where the majority of employees are middle-class earners. MLCC employees stimulate the economy by taking out loans to buy houses and cars. People working in jobs that pay very little or minimum wage may not have the means to contribute to the economy in the same way.

Privatization of the MLCC is not only bad for the employees but bad for Manitobans as well. A positive to having the MLCC be a public service is that it is accountable to the public. They have accountability in the form of their annual reports, which they post online for the public to see. This allows consumers to see how money is being spent within the service. A private company would not provide this type of accountability to its consumers. To the MLCC, being accountable is defined in various ways, but most importantly through their social responsibility with regards to the sale of alcohol as well as putting profit back through various streams of health-care and addictions programs in Manitoba.

While at the MLCC it was obvious how serious they take social responsibility. For example, I was thoroughly trained to properly ID customers, assess customers who appeared to be under the influence, de-escalate difficult customers who have been either denied service or banned from the MLCC as well as how to identify if someone was buying for a minor. It was important to ensure safety for customers within the store, but also for customers leaving the store. Enforcing laws and policies around selling and purchasing of alcohol is a responsibility the MLCC takes seriously.

MLCC as a publicly run service is socially responsible as a portion of its proceeds offset programming costs for health-care and addictions programs in Manitoba. Last year alone the MLCC put $284 million dollars back into the province, 2 per cent of which was invested in health-care and addiction programs. Where would money come from for those health-care and addiction programs if this service was private? I can only assume it would be from Manitobans.

After leaving the MLCC I started working, ironically, with the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM). I work frontline at AFM allowing me to see firsthand how funding is used to support those looking for help. Not having this funding from the MLCC would mean programs, such as AFM and others, would be diminished in quality, hurting not just the clients but all of Manitoba as well.

I understand some Manitobans feel the price of alcohol may be lower if privatized; cost-comparisons with other jurisdictions show MLCC is competitive on many products and not that much more expensive on others. Although some individuals may feel they could save a few bucks, the cost to society far outweighs the benefits for these inconsequential savings.

Clearly, keeping the MLCC public benefits not only employees and customers, but those accessing different health-care and addiction programs in Manitoba. Having had worked for both the MLCC and AFM it is easy for me to see that there are plenty of benefits to having a public system. It works for all of Manitoba on many levels whereas a private system would only benefit those who own the company. As a young Manitoban who is concerned about the future of Manitoba I say privatization is not worth it.

Cheryl Lysy is a student at the University of Manitoba's Inner City Social Work Program.

Photo: rick/flickr

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