Nova Scotia is now a battleground between the forces of liquor regulation and privatization. The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU/NUPGE) has reached out to citizens to ask them not to shop in agency stores – the small private liquor stores which are, in the union’s words, “cropping up in rural communities at an alarming pace.” Recently the Government announced that it had approved new agency stores for seven communities.
NSGEU/NUPGE says that the agency stores rob sales from unionized stores, putting the stores and some good unionized jobs at risk. “Our rural communities need these jobs,” reads a statement from the Union.
NSGEU/NUPGE also points out that private liquor sales are known to increase alcohol-related deaths. Mothers Against Drunk Driving support the public regulation and distribution of alcohol. In a policy paper released this spring, MADD claimed that “replacing the provincial liquor board system with a privatized system of retail alcohol sales will increase alcohol-related problems and carry substantial human, social and economic costs.”
MADD quotes the experiences of other countries and communities that have chosen to loosen laws controlling liquor sales:
- When North Carolina began allowing sales of distilled spirits in restaurants, there resulted a 16-24% increase in police-reported alcohol related incidents, including road accidents
- Liberalization of pub opening hours in the UK have led to increased hospitalizations
- In Glendale, Arizona four convenience stores alone were responsible for more than 1,000 police calls in just one year
- Western Australia and Iceland saw an increase in impaired driving and alcohol-related violence as a result of longer hours of liquor sales
Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservatives in particular have pressed for a loosening of the regulations, pointing out that the rules governing liquor sales have not changed much in 80 years. They have asked that corner stores and grocery stores be allowed to sell liquor without government oversight, in order to stimulate business in rural communities.
Their request has not gone down well with MADD, who argue that “crown assets balance public interest and safety.”
There is little change on the horizon: the agency stores are set to continue. But the provincial government has no plans to allow private liquor sales in grocery stores. Unless the government employees’ boycott takes hold and hurts the agency stores’ business, no one is going to be either terribly satisfied or terribly discouraged by the current state of affairs.