UPDATE: North Van city slams province's liquor privatization plan, Minister responds
North Vancouver city council slammed the provincial government’s plans to privatize the BC Liquor distribution and warehousing branch Monday, calling on Victoria to appoint an independent commissioner or committee of MLAs to air the issue publicly.
But those were ideas the B.C. labour minister was quick to shoot down.
“We’re not anticipating doing that at all at this point,” Minister Margaret MacDiarmid told The Outlook in a phone interview Tuesday. “But we will certainly be very, very clear about what this is costing government now and, if there’s a successful proponent, here’s the savings that are going to be available.”
The city’s call for a moratorium on the liquor distribution sale was tabled by city councillor and NDP MLA candidate for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, Craig Keating.
Council voted 5-1 in favour of halting any sale before a public discussion has taken place, with Coun. Guy Heywood casting the lone dissenting vote. Coun. Pam Bookham was absent when the vote was taken.
In their February budget, the BC Liberal government released plans to sell off “surplus” assets to the private sector, including liquor distribution and storage services throughout the province.
The plan angered B.C.’s largest public-sector labour group — the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union — whose 25,000 employees include thousands of BC Liquor distribution and warehouse staff.
In a letter to City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, BCGEU president Darryl Walker asked the mayor to oppose the BC Liquor sale, citing what he called a lack of public consultation on the decision and a likely loss of government revenue if the plan goes through.
“In the last five years, the LDB [Liquor Distribution Branch] we all own contributed a net income of $4.3 billion to help pay for public services such as health, education and highways,” Walker wrote. “Rather than handing over liquor distribution to a for-profit private company, the government should consider modernizing government liquor stores through Sunday openings and extended hours to generate more revenues for public services.”
It was a sentiment that Coun. Rod Clark agreed with, telling council “I cannot believe the government is getting out of one of the businesses they make money at.”
Coun. Heywood, on the other hand, said it was in the municipality’s best interest to stay out of the liquor privatization matter, going on to characterize the liquor distribution branch as a bureaucratic relic which no longer needs to be staffed by government employees.
Mayor Mussatto fired back, voicing his support for a moratorium on the sale.
“From what I understand, the provincial government is reconsidering this decision and they’re looking at reasons why or why they shouldn’t be doing this because they didn’t do their research in the first place,” Mussatto said. “They just went out trying to privatize without really looking at the consequences of, and the costs of, and the savings for, which they need to do.”
Minister MacDiarmid responded by saying the government is not reconsidering its decision to solicit proposals from the private sector for the liquor storage and distribution contract, adding “if it’s not actually going to cost less, we simply won’t do it.”
The province plans to announce its shortlist of three companies for the liquor distribution and storage contract on Friday, July 20.