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The New Quebec Government Could Start to Dismantle the SAQ

The CAQ wants to allow more direct sales from alcohol producers to consumers

CAQ leader and premier-elect of Quebec, François Legault
Martin Ouellet-Diotte/Getty Images

Quebec’s newly-elected Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government could herald some major changes to the way alcohol is sold in the province.

With François Legault’s party winning a majority in in the National Assembly after Monday’s election, his party will have a solid degree of freedom to pass whatever laws it likes, without negotiating with other parties. It also happens that the CAQ was the party that promised the biggest changes to Quebec’s publicly-owned alcohol retailer, the SAQ.

The other three parties in Quebec seemed to favour minor changes to the SAQ, which has a monopoly on sales of hard liquor and some wine in the province. Two (the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire) declared that they would not privatize the alcohol retailer, while the Liberals said they’d consider changing its business model, but seemed to suggest that they would keep the SAQ intact.

Meanwhile, in a statement to Eater, a CAQ representative said the party wants to allow alcohol importers and producers to sell products directly to consumers (particularly wine) — instead of via the SAQ.

“It isn’t and has never been a question of privatizing the SAQ...but this would be equivalent to putting the SAQ in private hands,” the slightly ambiguous statement read.

The CAQ has highlighted the idea of eliminating the SAQ monopoly for a while now — in 2016, the party complained that the alcohol sales system in Quebec was making customers pay more for their booze (although the SAQ later dropped prices). Earlier this year, the party’s financial critic and parliamentary leader Francois Bonnardel reiterated the same sentiment, telling Le Journal de Québec that Quebecers should have access to more wines and spirits beyond the SAQ’s offerings.

However, it’s not clear if or when any changes to the SAQ will happen — the party was relatively quiet on the issue during the September campaign, instead focusing on issues like cutting immigration to Quebec and privatizing healthcare.

The SAQ isn’t the only government corporation that the CAQ wants to change — in the same statement to Eater, a representative said that Loto-Québec, which manages casinos and gambling in the province, should be overseen by an independent force. The party also committed to eliminating video poker machines (VLCs) from bars in the province.