Dionne says provincial government needs to spend more on alcohol rehab and treatment programs

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne says he’s going to demand the provincial government direct more funds to alcohol and drug rehab programs once the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Dionne made the comments in light of city council’s decision to cap the number of cannabis retailers who are allowed to operate inside city limits. Opponents of the decision argued that cannabis was being treated unfairly, but Dionne argued the city is seeking to clamp down on alcohol consumption in the community too.

Part of that plan is to get the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority to direct more of its proceeds to treatment and rehabilitation programs.

“We are going to demand more of the profits from alcohol sales go to treatment programs so we can try to get people who are addicted to alcohol a better quality of life,” Dionne said in an interview. “We know it’s now a problem.”

Dionne’s remarks were in reference to the provincial government’s decision to keep alcohol retailors open during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, Premier Scott Moe said the government would not restrict alcohol sales because it might overwhelm the province’s hospitals and treatment centres. He also worried closing government stores would simply funnel customers to a smaller number of private stores, which would increase the chances of spreading COVID-19.

“If we were to close those doors, there may be people that would go through not only withdrawals, but be added into a system that we are making efforts—in normal times—to expand to address the demand here in the province,” Moe said at the time. “(It’s) not only with alcohol, but with other addictive substances we have here in the province.”

Dionne said he takes that as an acknowledgement that the province has an alcohol problem, not just cities like Prince Albert.

“They’ve admitted it, so now we’re going to say, ‘we want you to share the profits,’” he said. “We want more profits to go (to treatment programs). That’s who should be paying for it. It should be the province.”

Dionne added that the provincial government has been respectful in limiting the amount of cannabis retailers in the City. He’s confident they’ll do the same when it comes to alcohol.

“They haven’t just shut the door. They are listening, and I do believe they understand,” he said.

The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) already provides annual funding to organizations like the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Network. It also provides financial support to MADD and anti-impaired driving initiatives. Alcohol treatment programs are typically funded through the Ministry of Health, which draws its funding from the province’s general budget fund.

When asked if the SLGA would consider increasing the amount of money it provides to organizations like MADD or the FASD network, and spokesperson said the amount of funding varies from year-to-year, and is dependent on funding proposals presented to the SLGA.

In April, the provincial government partially reversed its stance and closed SLGA liquor stores in northern communities at the request of local leaders.

Licenced restaurants and taverns have been allowed to sell liquor through an offsale model during the pandemic. Dionne said he’s worried many businesses will fight to keep that privilege, even after the pandemic ends.

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