As the deadline for Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) franchise applications to replace government stores in Langenburg, Ituna, Ponteix and Kerrobert fast approaches on May 8, the union that represents the employees is fighting back.
The Saskatchewan Government Employees Union is running an ad campaign called “Keep Small Town Saskatchewan Strong.” The union claims the government is taking good jobs out of small towns, hurting local economies and doing it without consultation.
“Closing SLGA stores, and shifting from public to private liquor sales, puts profits ahead of the needs of your families and communities,” the ads say.
Donna Christianson, chair of the SGEU-SLGA negotiating committee said the bottom line is rural Saskatchewan loses.
“There’s a loss of jobs in these communities and they’re good jobs,” she said. “I don’t believe rural Saskatchewan can afford to lose any more services.”
The union is encouraging people to write to their MLA and the minister to discourage privatization.
Michelle Nicholauson, Langenburg’s community development officer, said the town is concerned, but trying to make the best of it.
“I don’t think it will be that much of a difference except there’s two people who will be losing their jobs, so that’s unfortunate,” she said.
People in Langenburg, she said, are a bit confused because the size of the town is quite a bit bigger than where SLGA usually locates franchises and the store is a very busy one located right on Hwy 16 drawing people not just from the town, but all over the area.
Donna Harpauer, minister responsible for SLGA said the operating costs of the Langenburg, Ituna and Ponteix stores were simply becoming prohibitive and the “Kerrobert “store building is 94 years old and quickly nearing the end of its useful life.”
Christianson disputes the government’s position.
“These stores were not losing money,” she said. “We have the balance sheets and they all show a net income.”
A pamphlet published by SGEU claims the stores showed a combined profit of more than $900,000 in 2012-2103.
Nevertheless the minister suggested the conversion is better than the alternative.
“Converting these locations to rural franchises, rather than closure, will ensure these communities continue to have access to a full line of alcohol products at SLGA prices.”
Nicholauson said, that is one of the local concerns.
“Some people are wondering if the same selection of products will be available,” she said, adding that she is hopeful that the size of the town will help ensure whoever takes over will stock a full slate. She said several businesses are interested in taking over liquor sales from the government.
She is also hopeful that it will create at least one job to replace one of the ones lost, but admitted it would unlikely be as well-paying as a unionized public service position.
“It just depends on which business gets it,” she said.