Gary Collins has joined a company that could be profitting from decisions made by the Campbell administration when he was finance minister. Last month, the Liquor Stores Income Fund announced it had made Mr. Collins a trustee and a director of Liquor Stores GP Inc. The fund makes its money in the retail booze business via its 72.3 percent interest in Liquor Stores LP - the largest liquour store owner in Wild Rose Country. But it may soon be looking westward for more moneymaking prospects. According to a circular released back in April, the fund management "believes that British Columbia offers significant opportunities for expansion and intends to build on its market position" - which includes three outlets in the Lower Mainland and two elsewhere in the province - "by adding new stores through acquisitions and new store developments."
And why does British Columbia offer "significant opportunities" for expansion? In an interview with Business Edge's Gyle Konotopetz, the fund's president and chief executive officer Irving Kipnes explained "it's tough to get into (the province). Yet, once you get in, the business is very good because there is only about one store for 4,000 to 5,000 people in B.C., whereas in Alberta it's one store for about every 3,000 people or less."
It should aso be noted the Liberals announced regulatory changes in November 2003 allowing private liquour stores to better compete with their government-owned counterparts. And, although the administration has backed away from plans to privatize those public liquour stores, the effort did result in a brief lifting of the moratorium on private store applications in 2002.
That increased the number of those stores from 295 when the Liberals first formed government to 604 today - which has presumably created the kind of investment opportunities the income fund is now looking for. And, at the same time, the government has closed and consolidated its own operations - going from 222 stores to 206.
Fund trustees and Liquor Stores GP directors receive $20,000 per year and $1,250 for each meeting they attend. Fund management didn't respond to an interview request placed this morning. Mr. Collins, who is president and chief executive officer of Harmony Airways, has also not yet returned a call from Public Eye. The income fund amassed $6.1 million in net earnings between January and December 2005, according to its most recent annual report.