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Capital to vote on beer and wine sales
Non-binding plebiscite will give territorial cabinet final say on store

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 9, 2015

Iqalummiut will have a chance to vote this spring on whether they want a beer and wine store to open in the capital, giving residents the opportunity to purchase beverages containing alcohol over the counter for the first time in decades.

NNSL photo/graphic

Nunavut Finance deputy minister Chris D’Arcy, speaking at an Oct. 7 meeting discussing a proposed pilot beer-and-wine store in Iqaluit, says Iqalummiut will vote in a plebiscite on the topic this spring. - Casey Lessard/NNSL file photo

But the plebiscite will be non-binding, with the territorial cabinet having final say on whether it opens or not.

"There are a couple of reasons for that," said Department of Finance deputy minister Chris D'Arcy, adding first that the Liquor Act states executive council must have the final say. "If we had a binding plebiscite, that would tie cabinet's hands. This is a continuing part of our consultative process (on) this very sensitive topic. If the vote is really close, I don't think anybody would want us to be bound one way or another to having to follow this particular plebiscite."

D'Arcy said a plebiscite would be only one piece of information to consider along with the other consultations his department has done.

"The public meeting, the online submissions, as well as written submissions and face-to-face discussions with stakeholders" must be considered, he said. "We want more consultation, we want more Iqaluit residents to be able to weigh in on the matter. We think a secret ballot where people go in and mark their X is a good way to catch a larger segment of the population."

There has been no retail outlet for the sale of alcoholic beverages in Iqaluit since 1975. Residents currently have to get a permit and pay for products and the cost of shipping from a liquor warehouse in Rankin Inlet.

The plebiscite date is not yet set while D'Arcy and Elections Nunavut chief returning officer Sandy Kusugak continue their discussions. Currently, D'Arcy is hoping for late April, but May and June are options.

Any resident eligible to vote in a Nunavut election would be able to vote in the plebiscite. The vote will bring in much-needed feedback to counter or support the overwhelming opposition to the store shown at an Oct. 7 public meeting, where D'Arcy was bombarded.

"Do you know how many that have lost their children because of alcohol?" Annie Nattaq asked at the meeting. "Do you know the statistics? Do you know how many are fatherless because of alcohol? Have we done research on that? Who and how many children live like orphans because of alcohol?"

Her husband, city councillor Simon Nattaq, was equally critical.

"I know that there was a liquor store in Iqaluit," Nattaq said. "They saw the negative effects and took action in the community to close down the liquor store. I can tell you that it has benefited the community."

"I have seen family members die because of alcohol and I have seen murder because of alcohol," Nutaraq Nowdluk said at the meeting. "I've seen people abused in the past, and I'm pretty sure we'll see more black eyes in the future. The shelters would be filled up more. I'm pretty sure the people in the community would have a difficult time."

Some suggested alcohol should be banned completely. That is not part of the discussion and reaction to the meeting on social media indicates there are many who would like to see a store. Hence the plebiscite.

"We had always expected to take a slow and careful approach," D'Arcy said. "It is one of the more significant suggestions from the Liquor Task Force. It is the first step in the change in the mentality of alcohol in the whole of the territory, not just in Iqaluit. We want to make sure we don't make a misstep, that everybody is aware of the reality of opening a beer and wine store, and secondly, is behind it."

If the cabinet decides to go ahead with the pilot store, which would be housed at the Iqaluit liquor warehouse, it could in theory open this summer.

But first, D'Arcy needs to see Iqaluit's support, and then the department has to hear from neighbouring communities, as promised, and that data has to be evaluated. And if cabinet says yes, the storefront has to be built.

"If we were dreaming and everything lined up, by the end of the summer we may be able to (open)," he said.

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