By Daniel Betts
The BC New Democrats have taken issue with the proposed privatization of B.C.’s Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB). BC NDP Candidate for Prince George-Valemount, Sherry Ogasawara has called on Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount and Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General and Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, to reject the LDB privatization proposal based upon documents obtained by the BC NDP, which they claim shows the deal might be tainted by insider influence.
“Without a business plan, without discussions with the BC beer and wine industries, without discussions with restaurants, and without debate within the government, it’s unclear why this privatization deal is moving forward,” said Ogasawara in a media release. “Bond and Bell both need to show their constituents both here in Prince George-Valemount and Prince George-Mackenzie that there is a sound case for this privatization to proceed, or they need to speak out at the cabinet table and halt this tainted deal now.”
The media release claims the BC NDP has obtained documents under a Freedom of Information request that show, “cabinet members were opposed to the privatization until meetings took place with a firm headed by BC Liberal-connected lobbyists Patrick Kinsella and Mark Jiles. Kinsella and Jiles were both involved in the tainted BC Rail deal.”
Due to the escalating crisis in both Johnson’s Landing, B.C. and Fairmont Hot Springs, B.C., Minister Bond, was unavailable for comment. However Margaret MacDiarmid, Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government contacted The Valley Sentinel to explain the government’s point of view. Her ministry is responsible for the Negotiated Request for Proposals (NRFP) for the privatization of the LDB.
According to Minister MacDiarmid, last year the Deputy Premier, Kevin Falcon, had instructed all ministries to see where government could find savings due to the imperative to balance the budget for the next fiscal year. Core review materials from previous cabinet sessions were revisited and the privatization of the LDB was offered as a possibility. “I know there has been some controversy around meeting with one of the proponents but the actual having deputy ministers look at this issue preceded the meetings that happened,” said Minister MacDiarmid. “We are able to say with confidence that this process got started as part of a internal government process looking for ways that we could save money and that preceded the meetings that happened with at least one of the proponents.”
A press release dated July 3, from the Ministry of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government states six proposals were received in response to the LDB NRFP. One of the companies listed is Exel Canada Ltd., the company responsible for liquor distribution in Alberta and also accused by the NDP of having a connection with Kinsella and Jiles. “It’s not at all unusual for our government, other governments have definitely done this, federal governments, municipal governments, we meet with people from time to time, we meet with companies that are interested, ideas come forward, individuals will have ideas about better ways to do things,” said MacDiarmid. She maintains the private sector has expertise the government does not particularly have in warehousing and distribution. “We do believe there could be a cost savings and that does translate to better use of taxpayers dollars.”
Minister MacDiarmid wanted to be clear the proposal would not affect liquor pricing. “There is no intention to make any changes. This process does not have any impact on that.” She also noted the process would continue into the fall and would only be considered if savings were evident. “If we can see there are clearly going to be savings over the years we will go ahead on this,” said Minister MacDiarmid.
On Friday, July 20, a shortlist of up to three of the most qualified companies will be announced. A successful company, should they convince the government it can “establish a better service delivery model,” will be announced in October 2012.