Sask. liquor sales still stuck in the stone age

Courtesy: Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Joyous news out of Regina, where the provincial government has announced it no longer will inflict on us the that irksome relic of provincial backwardness, the twopiece driver’s licence.

No other jurisdiction on the continent managed to make a simple driver’s licence into two separate pieces, one of which is printed on flimsy paper, perforated and folded so you easily can tear it in half, often without intending to do so. Then you have a three-piece licence. And it doesn’t stop there. If you accidentally run your wallet through the laundry, the vital paper portion disintegrates, bringing the number of pieces closer to one million.

You have to reach deep down into the big bin of stupid ideas before you’ll pull out something like a three-ply, water-soluble driver’s licence that’s just a little too small to use in an emergency as toilet paper.

But now we are liberated from this crude and anomalous arrangement. Starting in the new year, our licences will be renewed with a single, plastic, photo-ID card like drivers elsewhere have had for 20 years.

This is not the first time Saskatchewan has been last. We were the last to get canned beer. We were the last to get cable television. We were the last to be allowed to buy our own telephones. Now we are the last to get a modern driver’s licence. Good-bye, artifacts of our overregulated past. Hello, free world.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Just because we’re getting rid of our Soviet-style driver’s licences, that doesn’t mean we’re ready to abandon all the retrograde traditions that distinguished the old Saskatchewan. The government monopoly on liquor sales, for example, seems as secure as ever. That’s why we can buy beer and scotch, among other products, in Alberta for about half the price that our own provincial government charges here.

Government should be protecting us from this kind of racket, not running it. Still, we meekly put up with the gouging and the limited selection and far-flung liquor stores, just nine of them, of which three are closed Sundays, in this city of 70 residential neighbourhoods.

Don’t expect government to change this archaic, expensive and inefficient system anytime soon. The governing Saskatchewan Party does not want to invite a big fight with the NDP over privatizing Crown corporations, not even those that cry out to be privatized. This would only give New Democrats the club they’ve been looking for to beat on the government. The liquor stores are just the start, they’d say. The Sask Party plans to sell off all our Crown corporations, they’d say, including SaskTel and SaskPower.

The New Democrats last won a provincial election on the strength of accusations that the Sask Party had a secret plan to sell off all the Crowns. You can be sure the Sask Party won’t resurrect these charges by unloading the Crown liquor monopoly, even if it makes sense in every other respect to do so. Which it does. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be bringing back trunk loads of discount booze from Edmonton and Calgary, would we?

The Saskatchewan Party might have its own reasons for embracing the liquor monopoly. I am told by a highly-placed source that Brad Wall is not necessarily opposed to the status quo with respect to liquor sales. According to this source, Wall believes that the privatization of Alberta’s liquor stores was not a success.

“ You’re kidding,” I replied when the source told me this. “ I’m not,” the source insisted. I was flabbergasted. It had not occurred to me that someone could believe that Alberta’s initiative was unsuccessful. The numbers certainly say otherwise. Before privatization in 1993, there were about 200 liquor stores in that province. Now there are more than 1,000, with a corresponding increase in employment. Before privatization there were about 3,300 products on the shelves. Now there are more than 16,000 products. Meanwhile, Alberta collects more in liquor taxes than it ever did running the stores. But it is Saskatchewan that has more alcohol-related social problems relative to our population.

Of course, none of this was any secret during the 2007 election campaign when Wall vowed not to privatize liquor stores. We cannot reasonably expect him to go back on his word. We cannot even be sure it was grudgingly given.

Thus does the old Saskatchewan endure.
The Matthew Olsgard Team

The Matthew Olsgard Team

CENTURY 21 Fusion
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