Sask. liquor store permits to go up for auction in February

Lori Carr, minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, speaks to reporters at the Saskatchewan Legislature in Regina on Jan. 10, 2023. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC - image credit)
Lori Carr, minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, speaks to reporters at the Saskatchewan Legislature in Regina on Jan. 10, 2023. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC - image credit)

The Saskatchewan government is moving forward with the privatization of its last liquor stores, putting the retail permits up for auction starting Feb. 6.

The auctions are for the permits only, not the physical buildings or other assets. The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) operates 34 stores out of about 600 liquor retailers in the province, but has been winding down operations since the provincial government announced in its fall throne speech that it would be fully privatizing liquor sales.

Lori Carr, minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, said she is expecting the online auction to attract many bidders.

"We already know that private industry is doing a good job of this. We've had lots of interest," she told reporters in Regina on Tuesday. "People are really excited — lots of calls, when are they going up for auction? How's it going to work? So we expect lots of activity."

Carr said she couldn't speculate about how much the permits would go for. The starting bid is $0.

Successful bidders have to open a retail store within 18 months of the auction closing. They are not allowed to resell the permit until after they've opened the store.

"Within the guidelines that we have set up, you actually have to open a store and it has to be running, so that individual has to take the time," Carr said. "They have to buy the permit. They have to set up the store. They have to have it operating, and then at that point in time, I guess if they want to sell that permit, they can."

Sadness for employees

The first of the 34 locations is scheduled to close to customers later this month, but stores already have empty shelves and dejected employees after stock was sold at heavy discounts during the holiday season.

The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union (SGEU) launched a "Save Our Stores" campaign to try to fight the closures, but that is winding down along with the stores.

"We're getting to the point where one of our stores is going to close right away. And so we've realized that once that happens, we don't have any other avenues," said Bob Stadnichuk, SGEU's vice-president for the retail/regulatory sector. "It'll just show that the government is going to press ahead without any regard to what's already happened."

Alexander Quon/CBC News
Alexander Quon/CBC News

Stadnichuk works at the SLGA store in Saskatoon's University Heights, which is scheduled to close in mid-March. He said the holiday season, usually an exciting time for staff, was depressing.

"It used to be that when you come to work … you're going to see people, you're going to enjoy your job. You're going to help people pick their wines and whatever they needed for the holiday season," Stadnichuk said. "This round was more like, show up to work and try not to feel the sadness."

He said the government's decision to just shut things down was poorly thought out.

"They set it up so that there were a lot of sales with very little profit," he said. "So what's going to end up happening is the government is going to see a huge loss from these stores at the end of March. They're going to use that to justify the reasons for closing the stores, but they were the ones that set it up to happen this way."