By Michael MacDonald - The Canadian Press
HALIFAX — The CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving says Nova Scotia’s opposition Progressive Conservatives have engaged in “dirty politics” by suggesting the group supports the party’s proposal to introduce the sale of beer and wine in corner stores.
Andrew Murie says a Tory discussion paper released in May includes references to MADD Canada that leave the impression the national charitable group isn’t opposed to the idea even though the opposite is true.
“It gave the impression we were supportive of this,” Murie said in an interview. “It’s dirty politics, let’s be honest.”
Murie said he was stunned when he read the document because his group made a presentation to PC party leader Jamie Baillie in February that included the group’s position on corner stores and grocery stores.
“I was very disappointed and I told them that,” Murie says, referring to a subsequent call he made to the party.
The discussion paper includes a paragraph explaining that MADD believes that provincial liquor boards do a good job controlling liquor prices and accessibility, and there’s a list of alcohol-related measures the group endorses. The list includes allowing alcohol in age-restricted theatres, re-corking of wine purchased in restaurants and permitting patrons to bring their own wine to restaurants.
A final point makes a vague reference to a “grocery store model.”
Murie says that point is misleading because the group, in its presentation to the party, was specifically referring to allowing the sale of alcohol inside grocery stores through government-run kiosks. The paper does not include any mention of MADD’s opposition to the private sale of beer and wine in corner stores and grocery stores, which is the focus of the discussion paper.
MADD’s denunciation of the proposal comes at an awkward time for Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie, whose party is gearing up for a provincial election. A vote must be held before June 2014.
Baillie says he understood that MADD wasn’t opposed to corner store sales so long as the party introduced other measures to impose strict controls.
“They made a presentation to us, which we quoted directly from,” Baillie said in an interview. “We weren’t putting any words in their mouth.”
When asked if the party would change the discussion paper to reflect MADD’s position, Baillie said: “If their position is different, then I respect it. I’m not going to argue with them about it ... If that was an error on our part, then of course we’ll correct it.”
Baillie says allowing the sale of beer and wine in corner stores and grocery stores — without oversight from Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. employees — would be good for struggling rural stores.
“Where this has been done, rural jobs have been saved and new jobs have been created,” he says. “It doesn’t cost a cent to implement.”
He says expanding the number of government-run stores isn’t the answer because the publicly owned liquor corporation can’t control its costs, adding that Nova Scotia Liquor’s operating expenses have doubled in the past decade while its volume of sales has increased only 11 per cent.
Baillie also rejects the argument that allowing more privately run stores to sell beer and wine will result in less oversight of alcohol sales to minors and drunk drivers.
“I don’t buy that,” he says. “I expect our corner stores and grocery stores to respect the liquor laws of the province.”
Murie says that’s wishful thinking.
“Who works at convenience stores? Nineteen and 20-year-olds,” he says. “They want their friends to get access to alcohol. (The store owners’) motive is profit, not public safety.”
Murie also says liquor prices would rise in a more privatized system.
“Some of the highest prices in Canada are in Alberta under a privatized system,” he says.
Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald has said the NDP government isn’t interested in Baillie’s plan. MacDonald says access to alcohol isn’t a problem in Nova Scotia, where there are about 50 privately run agency stores in remote parts of the province that aren’t served by a government outlet.
Like Murie, MacDonald says the main problem with the Tory proposal is the impact it will have on underage drinking.
“It would be very difficult for a young person working at a store, whose school chum comes in to purchase alcohol, to then ask for an ID and refuse a sale,” she says. “The very few provinces that have adopted this model, primarily Alberta, have in fact seen problems on the social responsibility side with young people.”