Manitoba minister attacks NDP and union in video about liquor stores strike

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s minister responsible for the province’s liquor and lotteries corporation says people who are upset they can’t buy alcohol due to a strike by staff at Crown-owned liquor stores should blame “the NDP and their union friends.”

Andrew Smith’s comments were contained in a video that was posted Friday to the governing Progressive Conservatives’ Facebook page, where he said the Opposition prevented passage of government legislation that would have allowed more private liquor sales.

“It’s summertime. We know that everyone likes a nice cold drink. But unfortunately that’s not going to be possible this weekend thanks to the NDP and their union friends,” Smith said in the video.

“You could have had alcohol purchases in grocery stores, your local corner store. These types of changes were made possible by our PC government, but unfortunately the NDP delayed that legislation.”

All Liquor Marts in Manitoba except two in Winnipeg were to be closed over the weekend due to an ongoing labour dispute. Some 1,400 workers who have been without a collective agreement for more than a year started a provincewide strike last week after the Crown-owned Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries shuttered more of its locations as contract talks stalled.

The workers had been holding short-term strikes since July, but decided to ramp up efforts after Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries failed to meet their requests.

Earlier this year, the New Democrats used procedural rules in the legislature to delay passage of two liquor bills beyond the summer break.

One of the bills would pave the way for a pilot project in which liquor would be available in more retail environments such as corner stores or grocery stores. The second bill would allow private beer vendors and specialty wine stores to sell a wider range of alcohol products.

“(NDP Leader) Wab Kinew and the union bosses don’t want you, the consumer, to have choice,” Smith said in Friday’s video, which featured him opening a beverage at the end of it.

Under legislature rules, the Opposition can delay up to five bills beyond the summer break. Normally, that pushes back the bills’ passage until the fall. But with an election this year, the delayed bills may not come to a final vote.

Voters head to the polls in a provincial election on Oct. 3, and parties are already making statements about their platforms.

Kinew posted a short video statement on Sunday saying Premier Heather Stefanson could end the strike today.

“If I were the premier of Manitoba, I would ensure that you, the people of Manitoba get your beer. And I would ensure that people who serve it to you are paid a fair wage. It’s that simple,” Kinew said in the video.

Smith’s video appeared to conflict with remarks reported in other media by Stefanson on Friday, in which she accused the striking workers’ union of “politicizing” the issue. An interview request to Smith was passed on to the PC Party, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. 

The president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union said last week the latest contract offer was for four years with two per cent wage hikes each year and some wage adjustments to compensate for minimum wage in the province going up to $15.30 this fall.

Christopher Adams, an adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said the PCs have been focusing on the NDP’s ties to organized labour, and the strike at liquor stores is one that affects people closely.

Adams said a lot of people view two per cent annual increases as small compared to inflation, but those opinions could change if the strike continues.

“It depends how the middle class will perceive it over the next month,” Adams said. “And I think the longer it goes for, the more chance it will start bending towards the PC’s side of things as people become more affected by the strike.”

Lisa Naylor, the NDP critic for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, said her party delayed the legislation that would have allowed more private liquor sales because it felt the issue needed more study.

Naylor said there were concerns about alcohol being available for sale in corner stores such as 7-Eleven, where families shop.

“I think Manitobans are losing patience with a government that is so bent on interfering in the fair bargaining process and doesn’t care about workers, and continues to pick fights with workers, especially low-paid workers,” Naylor said in an interview.

“So far, folks are supporting the workers. That’s what we just keep seeing everywhere.”

—By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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