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No liquor privatization, Manitoba Opposition leader promises

WINNIPEG – Manitoba Opposition Leader Brian Pallister said he would not privatize liquor sales if he wins the provincial election April 19.

The Progressive Conservative leader, whose party is well ahead in recent opinion polls, said he can rule out any further private involvement in liquor distribution because he has far more important priorities.

“We just laid out 20 clear, well-annunciated ideas in our alternative throne speech that are the real priorities that Manitobans want us to address — in education and health care, in improved economic growth,” Pallister said Thursday in an interview, referring to a campaign-style platform he released last month.

“If you go down that (liquor privatization) road, you haven’t got time to address these other issues.

“Have you ever met anybody who had more than 10 priorities that could actually get anything done? It’s the same thing in government.”

The Manitoba Liberal Party promised last summer that, if elected, it will find ways to lower booze prices and that could include privatization. The Liberals have been consulting stakeholders and are to announce the results Friday.

“People have been very co-operative. They’ve passed on great information that we’ve taken into consideration,” leader Rana Bokhari said earlier this week.

Pallister accused the Liberals of going for headlines instead of good public policy.

“I get the strategy, politically, of throwing ideas around on things that people care about day-to-day. You know, cheaper beer tonight, happy guy. But that’s not who I’m going to elect to be the premier of the province of Manitoba.”

The NDP government has loosened liquor laws in recent years, but retail stores are still predominantly government-owned and staffed. There are some private retailers, such as hotel beer vendors, a small number of boutique wine stores and liquor stores in some small rural communities.

The NDP has accused Pallister of harbouring secret plans to privatize a wide range of government services — an attack which Pallister says is completely false.

The Saskatchewan government recently announced plans to sell 40 of its 75 government liquor stores to private operators. It is also allowing 12 new private stores to open in various communities.