By Ian Johnson
When the Minister for the Liquor Control Act announced in early June that seven more Agency Stores would be allowed to open, NSGEU moved quickly to condemn the move. With the additional seven, the total number of Agency Stores will be 58.
As President Joan Jessome explained: “We think it is important to remember that when the Agency Store initiative started, Rodney MacDonald (then the Minister Responsible for the Liquor Control Act) committed the government in October 2000 to allowing only eight Agency Stores. We were willing to live with that limited number, but the government then decided later to break that commitment. It approved 15 more in 2005, 13 more in 2006, allowed for up to another 36 in December 2006, and approved up to another 15 more in 2007, before today’s announcement.”
She reminded everyone that it was almost exactly a year ago when then opposition leader Stephen McNeil promised there would be no further privatization of the NSLC. He said in an email to NSGEU dated June 7, 2013: “A Liberal government will not privatize or sell off the NSLC, nor will we change the manner in which alcohol is retailed/distributed in Nova Scotia.” With this announcement, president Jessome notes that: ”Adding seven new Agency Stores does change how alcohol is distributed in those communities and opens the doorto still more privatization across the province.”
She also questioned how opening new Agency Stores will “provide rural communities with additional economic activity and
employment opportunities,” as the Minister claimed. Instead, our members are telling us that the NSLC has already been cutting
hours in rural areas, and currently reviewing a number of class one stores.
“If the government was truly interested in creating good paying jobs, they should open up more NSLC stores,” said Jessome.
On another NSLC issue, the union commented on June 18 about the draft regulations for U-Vent and U-Brew operations. This followed the passage of the enabling amendments to the Liquor Control Act found in Bill 52 during the Spring Sitting of the Legislature.
President Jessome wrote in January to express our concern about the potential impact of these businesses on the jobs and collective agreements of our members. The Minister replied on February 19 to indicate that she did not think these businesses would significantly affect NSLC sales and these legislative changes are being used to set standards for an already existing service in the province.
Members remain concerned about the legislative amendments to the Liquor Control Act regarding U-Vents and U-Brews on a number of different fronts, as they contain a number of significant gaps and shortcomings including:
• The Act has no requirement for a set of social responsibility programs or campaigns, such as requiring age identification for every transaction, as is done by NSLC on an ongoing basis;
• Health impacts of having easier, on-hand access should be fully assessed before finalizing the new system, especially for young people;
• People under the age of 19 years of age would be allowed to be employed in a FOP facility (this is not permitted in the PEI regulations on which these draft regulations were supposedly based);
• There are no limits on the hours of operation, as is the case in PEI regulations;
• There are no apparent controls on how much any one person can brew at a time, how much can be brewed in the facility as a whole, how much product can be stockpiled, or any limits on the alcoholic content of the finished product;
• There is no apparent limit on the number of licenses that can be issued or renewed; no provision for independent checks on quality control and there are no pricing requirements, especially as compared to NSLC products, which could adversely impact at least some NSLC sales;
• There is no enforcement section as found in the PEI Policy Manual;
• If there are proposed policies similar to those in PEI to complement the draft regulations, they should be clearly stated in a Policy Manual and subject to public input before they may come into effect.
When the broader picture is taken into account with the recent announcement of seven new Agency Stores, coupled with the reduction of hours in rural NSLC outlets and the review and possible reduction of a number of class one stores, we are very apprehensive about these new developments. Every additional move towards a completely privatized system of alcoholic product production, distribution and sales moves us that much further away from a properly regulated, socially responsible, and fully accountable public body running this system. Our concerns have been forwarded to government.
It is important to acknowledge that the membership is not against new developments in the production, distribution, and sales of beverage alcohol, but we are committed to seeing new ideas within the public system and within the public regulatory framework in a way that keeps our communities safe and healthy without job losses.
– Ian Johnson is NSGEU’s Servicing Coordinator and Policy Analyst