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OPSEU radio ads spark strong response from Alberta’s privatized alcohol sector

We the North
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A hard-hitting radio advertising campaign by OPSEU that warns against the privatization of alcohol sales in Ontario has provoked a strong response from the head of the organization that represents alcohol retailers in Alberta, CBC Alberta reported today. The full story is here:

Ontario union uses drunk-driving stats to attack Alberta

OPSEU ad campaign 'shocking and offensive,' says head of Alberta Liquor Store Association

A nasty public-relations spat has broken out between Ontario and Alberta, with unionized government liquor-store workers on one side and a "free-wheeling" province with an overabundance of drunk drivers on the other.

Ontario's Liberal government is considering a plan to allow liquor kiosks to open in some grocery stores around the province.

The idea has prompted a radio advertisement, put out by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, that claims Albertans shopping for booze in private stores are more than three times as likely to be drunk as shoppers at government stores in the country's largest province.

The controversial message features a woman's soothing voice and a not-so-soothing message.

"In Alberta, you can buy alcohol at the grocery chains," the ad says. "And, in Alberta, it's three-and-a-half times more likely that the person you pass coming out of the parking lot is driving drunk. Do you want to make that kind of a trade-off in Ontario? A little bit of convenience for a whole lot of pain and suffering. The Liberal government's plan to sell alcohol in hundreds of grocery store will make booze easier to get than a double-double. And that's just not right."

The advertisement has raised hackles in Alberta.

"It's a bit shocking," says Ivonne Martinez, president of the Alberta Liquor Store Association, which represents more than 1,300 liquor stores in the province.

"I actually had to listen to it twice, to make sure I had actually heard right. They basically make the connection and the implication that if you're in Alberta, because of our privatized liquor retailing system, the person next to you in a parking lot is going to be drunk. And that is just quite offensive."

What's "just not right," says Martinez, is the way OPSEU uses stats about drunk-driving.

The ad makes a direct connection between how alcohol is sold and the incidence of drinking and driving, she said.

It's true that Alberta's rate is three times higher than Ontario's, Martinez said.

But it's also true that Saskatchewan, where alcohol is sold only from government-run stores, has a rate almost double Alberta's.

Conversely, she said, Quebec allows alcohol to be sold in grocery stores, yet that province has one of the lowest drunk-driving rates in Canada.

'They use scare tactics'

"So, I would suggest that link is just very unfair and unrealistic," she said. "They use scare tactics. We would like to tell them, and clear the air, that you can have both. You can have convenience and responsible retailing, they're not mutually exclusive. We've been doing it successfully here in Alberta for the past 20 years."

OPSEU has vehemently opposed private liquor kiosks for years, and has said it plans to spend $1 million on its current publicity campaign against them.

"I'm often asked the question, 'Well, you're just protecting your members jobs," said Smokey Thomas, president of the union that represents 7,700 Ontario liquor store workers. "Well, actually, no. It's not about who's doing the work."

Thomas said many studies show that increased availability pushes up the use of any consumer product, including alcohol.

"Alberta's experience hasn't been what you'd call positive," he said. "If you're a clerk, and you've got eight customers in line and somebody's coming up with booze on their breath buying a 12-pack of beer, and they're driving impaired, well, they may or may not not get reported. In the LCBO, that person would get reported to the police."

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has also come out against privatized retail liquor outlets, saying they will contribute to an increase in alcohol-related problems and carry substantial human, social and economic costs.

The Ontario plan calls for a limited number of liquor kiosks inside grocery stores. In Alberta, grocery stores by law can only sell alcohol from separate buildings on their properties.

"It's a completely different system than what they're trying to do," Martinez said. "So, it's very unfair to try to compare the two of them and scare people."

Ontario currently has 1,858 Tim Hortons outlets and 689 liquor stores, Martinez said. The province plans to add about 100 liquor kiosks in grocery stores.

"So, no, it is not easier to get a drink than a Timmies," she said. "Just wanted to point that out."

Drunk driving rates for 2014, according to Statistics Canada:

  • Canada: Total, 74,781; Per 100,000, 210.41
  • Ontario: Total, 15,149; Per 100,000, 110.75
  • Alberta: Total, 14,178; Per 100,000, 343.98
  • Saskatchewan: Total, 6,975; Per 100,000, 619.77
  • B.C.: Total, 12,690; Per 100,000, 274.01
  • Manitoba: Total, 2,770; Per 100,000, 216.06
  • Quebec: Total 15,138; Per 100,000: 184.28

Related: OPSEU in the News