Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Heeding threats and playing nice with government not best course

Today, a lesson for everyone who deals with government, courtesy of John Les and the rural stores that sell alcohol.
The stores' owners believed they were being treated unfairly a few years ago.
The government had cut wholesale prices for private liquor stores, boosting their profits (at taxpayers' expense). But the rural agents hadn't got the same break.
Keep quiet, Les warned them in 2007, and I might get you a better deal.
But if the issue hit the media or was raised in the legislature, they could forget about getting anything done.
"One more question in QP [question period] or an article in the paper and it's over," said Les, then the solicitor general.
So the stores' owners stayed quiet, for two years. Until finally, this year, the owners decided they had been played for saps. Staying quiet for two years got them nothing.
It's a dilemma, for businesses and social service agencies and municipalities and anyone else who think they're getting a bad deal from government.
Play nice with the party in power, work quietly and hope things turn out OK.
Or raise the problems publicly, so the government feels political pressure to deal with the issue.
It's a scary decision. Government's have immense power. A school district or social service agency or business worries about reprisals if it makes waves. What if funding disappears?
Most reporters have talked with people representing organizations who feel they're being hurt by poor government policies, but are afraid to air their concerns.
Better to work within the system, most decide
The rural liquor agents said they took Les's 2007 comments as a threat. It wasn't right, some said, but they decided to keep things quiet.
It does sound much like that.
"All this talk and e-mails flying around is not helpful," Les wrote. "It will get out to those who are not helpful and a huge fuss will break out and I won't be able to help you."
If the store owners let anyone know they felt they were being treated unfairly, that would be it, Les said. They would be shut out, their concerns ignored.
Which is interesting, in that another group - an association of home inspectors - had earlier claimed Les threatened them, not because they went public, but because the premier with their concerns.
Les, the home inspectors said in a subsequent letter to the premier, had responded by calling them stupid. He warned that if they "ever wrote to the premier again, he would drop the issue of consumer protection for B.C. homebuyers." Les denied the claims.
Here's where the lesson gets meaningful. The home inspectors went public, made their case and, after almost three years, won their goal - licensing and government regulation.
The liquor agents played along with Les and the Liberals. They got nothing. While the private liquor stores - much better politically connected - have received financial help from the government, the liquor agents have been left out of the generosity. (That's probably the right decision. The businesses signed on to sell liquor based on the existing price structure. If they don't like the deal, they can give up the business.)
It's an example that others should consider, especially as we head into what looks like a year of cuts to services and supports. The politicians from the party in power always urge silence and patience. Just work with us, they say. And behind the vague promises, lies the implied threat that making waves will kill any hopes of progress on the issue.
But it didn't work out that way in these examples.
Which seems understandable. Governments are moved by public pressure. And as long as problems are hushed up, they're more apt to ignore them and concentrate on other priorities.
Working to persuade government is useful. But the threat of a little public heat can help make things happen as well.
Footnote: Meanwhile, Les remains under investigation by a special prosecutor in relations to land deals when he was mayor of Chilliwack in the 1990s. A special prosecutor has been on the case for 20 months. It is unfair to the public - and especially to Les - that the investigation is taken so long to come up with any conclusions.


DPL said...

It looks good with Les way back in the crowd on the government side of the house. He claps and collects his pay and with any kind of justice will hopefully soon get booted out of the building. Mind you, innocent till proven guilty.

Anonymous said...

It just sort of strikes me funny that there even is this going on of subsidies and 'deals' and 'support' for something like liquor stores, or any kind of stores. Is ours not supposed to be a free market economy, the market forces do the inherent fairness bit; let fall what cannot stand etc.? Then where is this magnanimity coming from? are they lying about the whole thing?

Dawn Steele said...

The creation of CLBC, which sold community living down the tubes, was another classic example of this.

The conservative sector of our advocacy community decided they could be more influential in mitigating the damage from the Liberals' radical agenda by sitting at the table and working from the inside. The rallying call back in 2002 was: "The train has left the station - get on board or get left behind."

We were among the few who resisted the pressure tactics and replied: "No thanks, we'll take our chances on the outside."

Not only were the community living "insiders" wrong, but the Liberals also used their complicity to undermine the legitimacy of the few independent voices who continued to warn about where this was all headed.

In the end, it wasn't just our community that lost out. Tens of millions in tax dollars, perhaps a lot more, were wasted on an extraordinarily costly and badly bungled restructuring process that created far more problems than it can ever hope to solve. Almost 10 years later, it remains a work in progress, with speculation mounting that CLBC will likely be dismantled and merged back into the bureaucracy once the election is over.

When you have reasonable people who are prepared to deal in good faith, based on logic and evidence vs. ideology and ignorance, sitting at the table and working collaboratively is always the better option, even though you can't expect to ever get all you want. But we were not dealing with reasonable people, nor was there good faith. There was a lot of ideology and a lot of ignorance, which is a recipe for disaster unless it can be convincingly exposed for what it is.

Ted Hlokoff said...

Great article.

It looks like ABLE/Private Liquor Stores wear the Boss's pants in BC. They got their license rules changed and sell convenience store products while Minister Coleman and ABLE director Kim Haakstad say that "Private stores only sell Liquor, Wine and Beer." I'm sure that people have, like myself bought gum and cigarettes from private stores. Lotto, pop, and 'pre-packaged snacks" are also allowed. Private stores are allowed to sell milk, but don't because it doesn't have a huge profit margin. Truth is not forthcoming with the Liberals.

Bankruptcy is the new Liberal policy? When it costs Rural Area stores 18-22% to sell Liquor ... why does the Government allow them only a 10% wholesale discount? After being informed of the hardship and losses from selling liquor the Gov. says, "It's fine." (Minister Les). Minsiter Coleman says there is no plan to give a 16% (private stores discount) discount. So our governmentactually plans on Bankrupting Rural Stores? Private Stores will be the only outlet in 5 years if Government stores and Rural Area Stores continue to decline. Private stores charge as much as 35% above RAS and GLS prices. Private Stores make as much as 51% margin on sales.


Anonymous said...

The general trend is not in our favor, nor did the timing turn our favor.

RAS stores should form a political interest organization and start lobbying the current ruling party as well as the opposite parties if they are likely to win the next game.

Let's be realistic. The public will not hear our voice since we're private business owners in disguise of some 'public sector' colour.

250,000 dollars went to liberals from ABLE for last year's donation? How smart they are! and how incapable are we? Who would you pet if you were the guy in power?

Let's be wisely powerful or get ready for privatization which will be the general trend. Because we all know that we badly want this license in spite of the 'unfairness'

Anonymous said...

I believe that if those who peddle booze were subject to civil damage damage suits for the harm their customers cause to others (ie drunk driving, etc.) then perhaps they'd realize that whatever "profit" they're now putting in their own private (and that goes for the country grocer/liquor peddler)bank acccounts. As a private citizen I don't believe anyone but government should be allowed to sell booze or any other harmful drug. To read about this whining and pointing of fingers; and crying about about the ideologies of others is simply pathetic. Is money grubbing worth dealing in the misery that alcohol is responsible for? Other than for that "Ya but...it's legal" argument, what actually is the difference between dealing in alcohol and dealing in any other harmful drug you'd care to name?

Anonymous said...

There is a simple solution here. If the rural stores do not like the 10% commission and apparently are taking a financial loss than quit selling the booze on behalf of the LDB and problem solved.

Mike Geoghegan said...

Associations that run into these sorts of problems should always hire a government relations consultant. Not doing so is like walking into court without a lawyer.

Secondly these rural liquor stores are often the general stores that are the lifeblood of the community in the area so if they close then there goes the heart of the community.

Finally if they stop selling alcohol then you have people dirving dozens if not hundreds of kilometres, so allowing/focing them to go under means more people will die as a result of drinking and driving.

Mike Geoghegan www.mgcltd.ca

Ted said...

Hey Annonymous ... ABLE pay you?

Private stores charge whatever they want RAS are forced to pay and charge whatever the Gov. wants. Private stores get 51% markup while I get people complain that they pay ME too much???

The Government arranged it so that I pay what they they charge me and then I sell at their prices. I lose 8% because I get paid per 1974 rates. There was NO Credit Card and POS fees in those days. PST/GST costs me another percentage of my lousy 10% DISCOUNT.

Liverals raised the liquor price 3 times in the last 3 years. Is that because they gave such a sweet deal to the private stores? 51% markup compard to the puny 10% that doesn't even cover my costs? If anyone's unhappy with the price - Complain about the 15% Liberal increases or complian about the <35% extra you're paying the Private stores that gives them such a huge profit.


Ted said...

you want to stand at my store and tell all my customers that it's YOUR idea to not sell liquor 320kms from the nearest LRS? In case you can't add that's 640kms round trip. Perhaps you'd like to taste some of the 'screech' that used to be made to replace Alcohol before RASs? Hope your are getting an idea that RASs save MANY lives.

Shall all rural stores turn in their hunting/fishing licenses, Post Offices, Lotto tickets, bulletin boards, etc. Shall we be like LRSs and quit donating our services to the Schools, Rodeos and other fundraisers that we work for free for?

Government services are provided by General Stores - and it should be paid for by Gov. not just a couple people that are slowly going broke. We pay HUGE taxes and those taxes are supposed to pay for our Gov. services.

Anonymous is thinking that only Private Liquor Stores should be allowed make 51% and General Stores should go bankrupt supplying essential services with their puny 6.8%? (Gov. says it's 10)

Darryl said...

Well I guess we have a private liquor store owner posting his comments,
Tinhorn Creek has a great offer for you.


I am pleased to inform you that Tinhorn Creek is offering Private Liquor Stores a FREE Wooden Gift Box of our wines with minimum orders as indicated on the attached sell sheet. *Note that purchasing the Level 2 (12 case orders) allows you an additional $1.00 savings per bottle above the $1.00 you are already saving by buying direct! That amounts to a $2.00 savings on our regular priced wines! You will be able to draw your winner at your store at the end of the day on April 15th, 2009.

This winery will also be providing a chance for your customers to win a Gift Certificate to stay at our Guest House at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards. There will be 2 winners within my Northern territory and the date of the draw will be on April 22nd, 2009. I will send you a self addressed envelope with your order, so you can return your entries to me at the end of the promotional period that runs from March 15th until April 15th. All entries must be received here by April 22, 2009 to be eligible for this prize.

If you are interested, a free Tinhorn Creek Barrel can also be provided for your store to use as a display of our fine wines or you can give it away as an additional promotion within your store. These will be shipped out with the minimum orders of either 8 or 12 cases of Tinhorn Creek wines.

Find attached the Wooden Gift Box promotional information sheet and a poster of the Guest House at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.

I look forward to your response to this great offer!


Notice that the offer is for private liquor stores only and you also get an extra discount if you meet the minimum case purchase.

Enjoy the extra discount.

Pat Byers said...

typical line the govt.pockets with election cash and get a better discount,The whole set up of different rates is criminal.I think its time ras hire Mike G and let him take this to task.Lets make it an election issue and see how their butts pucker.pbbamfield