March 2023 has come and gone, and with it the last of the SLGA public retail stores have also disappeared thanks to a misguided and illogical decision by the provincial government to shut them down. The decision was announced as part of the Throne Speech on October 26, with no prior consultation or notice given to the union or the workers themselves. It’s shameful that the hard-working and dedicated SLGA store employees found out through the news that their jobs would be coming to an end in a matter of weeks.
Along with the store closures, the decision meant the loss of almost 400 stable, good paying jobs that supported families, mortgages and the local economy. SLGA Minister Lori Carr and other Cabinet Ministers casually suggested that those who lost their jobs could find opportunities to work at private liquor stores, however they failed to mention the low wages and precarious hours offered at most of these stores.
Their decision also means the government chose to pass up an annual revenue source from publicly owned liquor stores that brought in millions of dollars in profits over the years – revenue that helped fund important public services like health care, education and highways. The SLGA stores remained profitable in recent years, despite the provincial government refusing to let them modernize so they could compete on a level playing field with private liquor stores that offered walk-in coolers, snacks, mix and ice to patrons.
In exchange for ongoing annual revenues, the government chose to auction off the liquor licenses, most of which were purchased by already wealthy large corporations and shareholders, with profits flowing out of the province. The auction generated $45 million dollars with one license selling for an incredible $3.27 million. That alone proves that there is significant profit to be made from retail liquor sales, except now that ongoing revenue will no longer remain in Saskatchewan thanks to the provincial government’s foolhardy choices.
Immediately following the government’s announcement, SGEU launched a campaign to convince the Premier and Minister for SLGA to reverse their decision. Thousands of petitions were signed by SGEU members and the general public. Several thousand emails were sent to the Minister. Volunteers knocked on doors, made phone calls and delivered flyers to inform the public about the situation. SGEU and our SLGA members received overwhelming support from the public and from our allies across the labour movement who recognize the many benefits of public liquor stores and public services in general.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, the government forged ahead with their decision and the stores began closing in mid-January 2023 with the last one shuttered in mid-March. The government’s unexpected announcement during the Throne Speech and their extremely short timeline for closing the SLGA stores were difficult obstacles to overcome.
The Government of Saskatchewan’s drive toward the privatization of public services and public assets and their refusal to listen to reason or public opinion was and remains an ongoing concern. The vast majority of SGEU members work in jobs that are at risk of privatization. We have already seen a large number of our members impacted by privatization in areas such as health care, highways, Crown corporations and agencies, a variety of government services and more.
I would like to recognize the members, staff and elected officials who led the SOS campaign, as well as all members who participated in the campaign by sending emails, signing petitions, sharing posts or making phone calls. Thank you. Though we were unable to reverse the decision, your efforts showed the government that privatization is not something we will take lying down. Your union will continue to fight to maintain public services for the good of our members and the general public.
Strong, vibrant public services are what the people of Saskatchewan need and deserve.
Tracey Sauer (she/her)