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5 things to know about Iqaluit's vote on a beer and wine store

This spring, Iqaluit residents will vote on opening a beer and wine store in the city. Here's what Nunavut's Deputy Finance Minister Chris D’Arcy had to say about the proposed store and the plebiscite.
One of the recommendations from the Nunavut Liquor Task Force’s 2012 report included restricting access to hard liquor, but liberalizing access to beer and wine. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

The news Nunavut’s cabinet has decided to hold a vote on whether a beer and wine store should open in Iqaluit has reopened the debate in the capital.

Here's what Nunavut's Deputy Finance Minister Chris D’Arcy had to say about the proposed store and the plebiscite. 

1. A beer and wine store would sell...beer and wine

A beer and wine store in Iqaluit would not sell hard liquor, such as vodka.

One of the recommendations from the Nunavut Liquor Task Force’s 2012 report included restricting access to hard liquor, but liberalizing access to beer and wine.

Deputy Finance Minister Chris D’Arcy said it is about changing the paradigm from "guzzling" 1.7 litre bottles of vodka to drinking beer and wine. Spirits such as vodka are 40 per cent alcohol, where beer is about 5 per cent alcohol, and wine is between 12 and 14 per cent. 

“We’re always concerned about social responsibility," he said. "We’re always concerned about people drinking in moderation.”

Some, including Iqaluit RCMP, feel opening a beer and wine store would curb bootlegging.

2. The results of the vote will not directly decide whether a store opens or not

After a consultation with elders, who asked for a vote on direct alcohol sales, Nunavut’s cabinet decided to hold a plebiscite. According to the territory’s Plebiscites Act, the result of any plebiscite is non-binding.

9. (1) The results of a plebiscite have no binding effect or legal consequences unless the instructions to issue the writ and the writ declare that the results of the plebiscite are to have binding effect. -Plebiscites Act

D’Arcy pointed out that this plebiscite is different than the ones done under the Liquor Act when a community is voting on its liquor restrictions. Those are binding plebiscites.

3. The final decision is left to cabinet

A majority yes or no vote would not have a direct impact on the store’s fate. The final decision is left to cabinet. D’Arcy said that doesn’t mean the results won’t be taken into account. He said the results are part of the continuing consultations on the pilot project.

4. Talk of a beer and wine store in Iqaluit started more than 2 years ago

The Nunavut Liquor Task Force report was tabled in the legislative assembly in November 2012. Some of its recommendations included liberalizing access to beer and wine and government-run beer and wine stores, in places where communities support them.

Iqaluit’s then-mayor John Graham said he supported a beer and wine store in the capital.

In late 2013, Nunavut’s legislative assembly amended the Liquor Act to allow pilot beer and wine stores.

Last summer, Iqaluit City Councillor Terry Dobbin sent Finance Minister Keith Peterson a petition supporting a community consultation on the issue. 

That led to this past fall’s public meeting and a series of consultations.

5. If approved by cabinet, a beer and wine store could open as early as this fall

The plebiscite will happen this spring, some time between mid-April and mid-June. If there is overwhelming support, D’Arcy said the government will make sure surrounding communities understand what’s happening and can provide feedback.

Then a request for decision would be submitted to cabinet with the information gathered during consultations. D’Arcy said cabinet could greenlight the project in the summer.

That means a store could potentially open after the fall sealift. D’Arcy said the latest it could open this year is September.

"One thing we’re not going to do is open a beer and wine store when it starts getting cold out," he said.

The next steps would include sorting out logistics, such as where the store would be located and how it would operate.

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