GREATER SUDBURY -- Employees at two northern Ontario LCBO stores are unhappy with the province's decision to open up alcohol sales to private businesses and are picketing on Friday to educate customers about the impact and dangers of privatization.

Recently, the Ford government announced a list of 50 small northern Ontario towns now eligible to apply to sell liquor in convenience stores.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), the group representing the workers, says the picket's theme is 'Shop LCBO,' to remind the government and the public about the dangers of privatizing alcohol sales. They see it as one of Ontario's biggest assets being sold off and are encouraging members of the public to buy their alcohol from publicly-owned and managed LCBO stores.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, the president of OPSEU, says shopping at the new 'convenience outlets' will divert money from public services to the owners of the private stores.

"When you buy alcohol at a real LCBO, you can be sure of two things:

  1. All of the profits will go back into public services like hospitals, highways, and schools. And
  2. You'll be served by highly trained professionals who are dedicated to ensuring that alcohol doesn't end up in the hands of kids.

When you shop at a grocery store or one of the new privatized 'LCBO Convenience Outlets,' all you can be sure of is that the owners are trying to maximize sales because they get up to 10% of every dollar," said Thomas.

Jamie Kensley is the president of OPSEU Local 681.

"The money you spend at the LCBO generates profits for the province of Ontario. Last year, we generated $2.1 billion. That goes back into the Ontario coffers to help pay for education, healthcare, home care, infrastructure, etc. It goes back to the province for the people who pay taxes," said Kensley.

Union leaders say the LCBO has a long, successful history of selling alcohol responsibly, while returning billions of dollars in profits to the public.

One location in Greater Sudbury, Boninville, is close to several current LCBO stores.

"If you are standing in Boninville, literally you have the option to go shop at the LCBO in Val Caron, Azilda or Chelmsford," said Kensley. "My question to Mr. Ford and his government is how convenient do we need to make alcohol sales?"

David Prentice is a customer who believes alcohol sales should benefit public services.

"I am not for privatization. The money doesn’t stay in the community, it goes in somebody’s back pocket, whereas the LCBO gives back to Ontario," said Prentice.

Roxanne Poirier has worked at the LCBO for 11 years and says responsible sales are a priority.

"We are specifically trained to identify if someone is intoxicated, the risk of possibly serving someone underage, not only that second-party purchase, that is something that people are not aware of," said Poirier.

Recent public opinion research shows that Ontarians are 12 times more likely to say the LCBO does a better job than private retailers at keeping alcohol out of the hands of kids.

The union says the pickets in the Greater Sudbury communities of Chelmsford and Azilda are the first of many that willl be popping up at LCBO stores in northern Ontario in the coming months.