The president of the Ontario Public Service Employees union, representing more the 7,000 LCBO workers, says his union will redouble its efforts to keep the Crown corporation in public hands even as the Wynne government ponders asset sales to reduce the deficit.
“When it comes to fighting the possible sale of all or parts of the LCBO to the private sector, no organization in Ontario has a stronger track record than OPSEU – and we intend to keep it that way,” said the union’s president, Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “Our LCBO members have been on the frontlines of maintaining a publicly-owned retailer of spirits, wines and beer for years now and the more the new government talks about reviewing the possibility of selling off public assets the more we will push back hard.
“We’ve done so before when LCBO privatization was threatened and we’ve won. If that threat rears its ugly head once more we will do so again and the outcome will be no different.”
Thomas was responding to inflammatory comments made by the president of Unifor who said in a recent press release that OPSEU’s leadership was secretly supportive of privatizing the retail giant which contributes more than $2.4 billion annually to the provincial treasury in the form of dividends and taxes that help pay for health care, education and public services.
“Those with scant knowledge of the LCBO and the workers who make it a world leader in the retail sale of spirits clearly have too much time on their hands and should busy themselves elsewhere,” said Thomas.
He said the real threat posed by the new government is its intention to review the possibility of public asset sales, including Hydro One, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission and the LCBO. Were that to be the outcome of a review, OPSEU takes the position that any sale must be made to a purchaser, like a public sector-based pension fund, where all jobs would be guaranteed, dividends would stay in the province, regulatory oversight would be maintained and, in the case of the LCBO, the highest standards of social responsibility would be enforced.
Denise Davis, chair of OPSEU’s liquor board employees division, said her members have repeatedly fought against privatization of the LCBO, as recently as 2010 when the McGuinty government put forward an ill-advised plan to roll several large Crown corporations into an entity called “SuperCorp.” Investment funds would have been invited to buy up to 20 per cent of the shares in the corporation. The government quickly withdrew from the idea in the face of widespread public opposition.
“We’ve been down this privatization road too many times before and every time the government of the day eventually comes to its senses and acknowledges the LCBO is too profitable to be sold off to Bay Street,” said Davis. “But we’re ready to travel that road again if it means keeping the LCBO in public hands.”
Warren (Smokey) Thomas