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Local liquor retailers see upside to privatization

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On July 24, Competition, Science and Enterprise Minister Rick Thorpe set the wheels in motion for a government plan to privatize liquor outlets in the province, stating at a televised cabinet meeting that, "The government brings no special talents or purpose to retailing, warehousing or distributing alcohol."

Instead, he announced that the government would shift its focus from sales to regulation and public safety.

No schedule or plan for privatization has been announced. And there haven’t been any details about how the government expects to liquidate 224 liquor stores and two warehouses. While taxes and costs will remain the same for buyers, the government maintains that privatization will result in improved services, more consumer choice and access, and better use of Liquor Distribution Branch resources.

In Whistler, local liquor distributors outside of the government stores believe that the change will be positive in the long run.

Kirk Shaw, sommelier for the Bearfoot Bistro, said the restaurant has a good relationship with the local liquor stores but the current system is far from ideal.

"The liquor store is actually pretty good up here, the managers are fantastic," said Shaw. "But they’re under the gun from the people above them as far as all the little irritating things that drive you nuts."

Shaw believes private stores will become more service-oriented, and will treat customers like the Bearfoot Bistro, which boasts one of the largest wine cellars of any restaurant in the province, with more respect.

"You’re a customer who burns through a million dollars worth of project and they’re yapping at your heels over a six pack that’s sitting there," said Shaw.

Private agents are already picking up the slack for restaurants like the Bearfoot Bistro in ensuring that the restaurant can acquire rare or seasonal products without having to drive to the city and line up at the government stores with other restaurants and members of the public.

"It has gotten better, and our agents are pretty good at getting what we want, but there are so many weird things that can happen in the system just because it’s the government," Shaw said.

As recently as last year the restaurant lost its entire allocation of a rare wine without any explanation.

"There’s no accountability in that system right now because it’s a government monopoly. It’s not going to change dramatically because at the top the government is not going to let go of distribution, but a private company has more incentive to make sure things flow as smoothly as possible," he said.

Shaw also noticed that the staff at government liquor stores in other locations are not as helpful or knowledgeable as in Whistler.

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