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World’s Biggest Alcohol Companies Influencing Manitoba Liquor Modernization, Lobby Records Show

Manitoba PCs "modernization" plans include legislation to expand private liquor sales.

Several of the world’s biggest alcohol companies have lobbied the Manitoba PCs over the last three years regarding the PCs “modernization” plans to increase private liquor sales, lobby records show.

Lobbyists from Labatt, Diageo, and Molson Coors all have recorded lobbying activity with Manitoba government officials regarding the PCs “modernization” plans to expand private liquor sales.

Alcohol policy researchers have warned that expanding private liquor sales will have negative public health impacts and strain Manitoba’s healthcare system. The Manitoba Government Employees’ Union has campaigned against privatization to promote community benefits and maintain union jobs.

Diageo is one of the largest producers of beer, spirits and wine in the world. Diageo lobbied government officials several times year, including Premier Heather Stefanson, to “influence the introduction of a bill or resolution before the Legislative Assembly,” lobby records show.

Excerpt from Diageo’s Manitoba lobby record.

Labatt is a subsidiary of AB InBev, the largest brewer in the world. Labatt lobbied Manitoba government officials twice this year, including the Premier’s office, to advocate for lower liquor taxes and other policies “relevant” to the company, according to lobby records.

Molson Coors is the world’s third largest brewer. Molson Coors Canada’s President Fred Landtmeters is also the chair of industry group Beer Canada, whose members represent 90% of all beer production in Canada.

In June 2023, a Molson Coors lobbyist corresponded with Robert Holmburg, the Executive VP of Liquor and Cannabis Operations for MBLL, to “provide feedback into MBLL consultations for the future of liquor retail modernization in Manitoba,” lobby records show.

MBLL created a survey that asked participants for feedback on modernization, a Molson Coors representative told PressProgress.

“The survey asked for input on how the MBLL could modernize. We did participate in the survey, but we did not advocate or take a position on the topic of privatization. We believe that is a decision for Manitobans to make,” the Molson Coors representative said.

MGEU liquor workers’ rally in Winnipeg, Aug 3, 2023. Photo by Emily Leedham.

Other companies and industry groups who have recorded lobbying activity regarding Manitoba liquor policies include: Loblaws, 7-11, SkipTheDishes, the Coalition of Canadian Independent Craft Brewers, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada, Restaurants Canada, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

The Manitoba PCs introduced two bills that would increase private liquor sales in Manitoba: Bill 9, which would let private beer and wine stores sell a wider range of alcohol; and Bill 30, which would create a five-year pilot project allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell alcohol.

The NDP blocked both bills until after the October 23 provincial election. The PCs had previously attempted to expand private liquor sales through Bill 40 in 2020, but that bill was withdrawn after former premier Brian Pallister’s resignation.

Niall Harney, Senior Researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says the current MBLL workers’ strike appears part of the PCs broader strategy of cutting costs to undermine and further privatize the Crown corporation.

MGEU liquor workers’ rally, Aug 3, 2023. Photo by Emily Leedham.

“It really seems to connect with the agenda of privatizing liquor retailing in Manitoba,” Niall told PressProgress.

“It’s concerning that a Crown corporation—that was an employer of choice, that had high quality training, and generally good working conditions—is being devalued in this way at the same time the Premier and her cabinet are talking about the need for liquor privatization.”

The Manitoba PCs have intervened in collective bargaining twice over the last seven years to impose wage freezes on public sector workers. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries workers only received a 1.75% wage increase between 2017-2021, thanks to PC wage freeze legislation. After the legislation sparked lengthy legal battles with unions, the PCs then used mandate letters to set wage caps for the public sector during the pandemic.

MBLL has offered its workers only 2% annual wage increases, which the union says is not enough to compensate for years of wage freezes and high inflation.

“There’s no question that liquor and lotteries has the money to pay their workers fairly, and to offer them a fair deal,” Harney explained. “The corporation has been consistently hugely profitable, and was especially profitable during the pandemic. And its profits have continued to increase year over year for decades. “

“When negotiators are hamstrung for so long, and you have this monopoly, you are creating a lot of public anger and…opening the door to saying, Well, if we privatize liquor, negotiations like this would no longer be a problem.”

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For MGEU President Kyle Ross, who represents MBLL workers, the ongoing strike is about fairness.

“The Premier and her cabinet keep saying they’re not involved when we know full well that they set the public sector mandate and are forcing the liquor corporation to not offer us a fair and reasonable wage increase,” Ross told PressProgress.

“Our members feel this pinch, food is so expensive right now and gas. It’s really time for this government to step up and show our workers that they’re appreciated, and they need to be treated fairly.”

MGEU and MBLL return to the bargaining table this week which the union has called a “significant step forward.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify the nature of Molson Coors’ recorded lobbying activity, and to clarify that activity recorded in the lobby registry includes correspondence, not just in-person meetings.

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Emily Leedham
Emily Leedham is PressProgress’ Prairies Reporter. Her reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, big money and corporate influence, and systemic racism.

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