Manitoba

'It has divided the town': Niverville split ahead of vote to allow or deny cannabis retailers

The southern Manitoba town, which had a ban on liquor sales less than two decades ago, will vote Tuesday whether or not to allow cannabis retailers.

Citizens of Niverville head to the polls Tuesday

Billie Fontaine hopes the keep the sign on her yard well past Tuesday's vote. (Cory Funk/CBC)

Niverville resident Billie Fontaine has no plans to take the "vote yes" sign off her front lawn, even after the votes are counted in Tuesday's plebiscite on whether cannabis retail will be allowed in her southern Manitoba town.

"If the wind takes it away that's fine," Fontaine told CBC News. 

"But it's history for Niverville, it's important, I'm kind of proud of it." 

Fontaine is the spokesperson for Citizens who Support a Progressive Niverville, which has distributed about 2,000 of the signs and another 1,500 door hangers around town, with financial help from an undisclosed business.  

As a cancer survivor, medical cannabis user, and former cannabis educator, Fontaine joined the cause hoping to educate people in town about cannabis and the economic benefits of having cannabis retailers come to town. 

"Say no to drugs" signs are also peppered on lawns and roadsides across the roughly 5,000 person town. (The person reported to be behind that campaign declined an interview with CBC.)

Billie Fontaine is the spokesperson for Citizens who Support a Progressive Niverville. (Cory Funk/CBC)

Whether or not to allow the sale of recreational cannabis has divided Niverville — a town that had a ban on liquor sales less than two decades ago.

The issue began at a July 23 town council meeting, when its five council members denied a conditional use permit for the Calgary-based cannabis retail chain Canna Cabana in a 3-2 vote. Just under a month later, council voted 3-2 to hold a plebiscite — a binding public vote — to decide whether cannabis retail should be allowed in the town. 

Canna Cabana was planning to lease space in 349 Bronstone Drive, which is just a stone's throw from town hall. The property is owned by local electrician Bryan Trottier, who was surprised council denied the permit, but said he understands why council called the plebiscite.

"It's a big decision," Trottier told CBC News. 

"It's nice to just put it out to a vote. It has divided the town. But in essence, we'll find out what the town actually wants." 

Bryan Trottier owns the building where Canna Cabana was hoping to lease before the plebiscite. (Cory Funk/CBC News)

Opinions abound

About a minute's drive down the road from town hall is the Big Way grocery store, where Terry Dowse was picking up some household staples on Friday afternoon. 

She plans to vote "no" on Tuesday, but she's not completely opposed to cannabis. 

"Marijuana is a natural product, it's a plant, [that's] all good," Dowse told CBC News

She said her friend's daughter uses cannabis for pain. And orders prescription cannabis from Saskatchewan. But when she found out Canna Cabana is strictly recreational, her vote moved firmly into the "no" camp.  

"I would rather it be for prescription, mostly people who need it," she said.  

Niverville Big Way employee Avery Van Helsing plans to vote 'yes.' (Cory Funk/CBC)

Big Way employee Avery Van Helsing, on the other hand, plans to vote "yes."

"I think it's kind of silly that it's coming to a vote," Van Helsing told CBC News. 

Van Helsing said he doesn't smoke cannabis, but his vote is on principle more than anything else. 

"If you're worried about your kid doing marijuana, maybe give them a talk," he said. 

"I don't feel like people should be policing what adults do in their homes."

A town divided, for now

In 2001, Niverville held a close referendum that led it to lift its ban on alcohol sales.

Dowes and Trottier both remember it being a divisive time leading up to the vote, but after, things returned to normal fairly quickly.

Signs urging people to vote are peppered across Niverville, including near city hall. (Cory Funk/CBC )

And regardless of the outcome, they don't see it being much different this time around. 

"I don't think it'll change anything," Trottier said. 

Dowse doesn't plan on holding any grudges after the vote.

"To each their own," she said. 

"I'm not going to chastise somebody who says 'I'm recreational and I really love it.'" 

Niverville councillor Nathan Dueck voted against holding the plebiscite. He thought it would cause too much division. 

He wouldn't say whether he's for or against bringing a cannabis store to town, but said "I am for the economic growth in Niverville, whether that's a cannabis store or whether that is for any type of business."   

He spent this past weekend planning for the next fiscal year, and without specifying, he said there's some big projects on the horizon for the town. 

"These projects are going to overshadow any of the divisions we might have in the community," he told CBC.

"And as a community, we will be moving forward on any decision that's being made [Tuesday]." 

 

About the Author

Cory Funk

Associate Producer

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Cory cut his teeth as a business and politics reporter in Halifax before moving home to join CBC Manitoba's current affairs team. He's also lived, worked and studied in Ottawa and St. John's. You can email him at cory.funk@cbc.ca or message him on Twitter @CoryJFunk.

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