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'Why drag it out?' Fort Simpson mayor wants answers for delayed alcohol restriction vote

The mayor of Fort Simpson wants the N.W.T. to finalize a plebiscite vote on alcohol restrictions in his community as soon as possible.

The N.W.T. village passed a resolution to vote on its 30-year liquor restrictions last December

Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly wants the N.W.T. to finalize a plebiscite vote on alcohol restrictions in his community as soon as possible. (CBC)

The mayor of Fort Simpson wants the territory to finalize a plebiscite vote on alcohol restrictions in his community as soon as possible.

Last December, the village council passed a resolution asking for a plebiscite vote on whether the community should cancel all its current liquor restrictions. A letter with the resolution was sent the next day to Caroline Wawzonek, the minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission. 

The Department of Finance approved the plebiscite vote in a June 26 letter —as long as the voting process meets the chief public health officer's restraints during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The next step is for the department to appoint a returning officer to organize the vote. 

Let's just do this, get it out of the way, right? ​​​​​- Sean Whelly, mayor

Mayor Sean Whelly told CBC a department employee reached out to him to start that process on July 7 — but there's been no communication since then. 

Whelly wants the government to clarify when this vote will take place. 

"I wouldn't say it's like an overriding important issue right now but on the other hand, why drag it out?" Whelly said. "Let's just do this, get it out of the way, right?" 

According to the territory's Liquor Act, elements of the plebiscite, like the date, an appointment of a returning officer to organize the vote, and question(s) on the ballot, are the responsibility of the Department of Finance. 

On average, it takes six weeks from the time a resolution is passed to when a plebiscite vote is held, according to a handout sent to Mayor Whelly from a finance department employee. In this case, it's been over six months since the resolution passed.

CBC has contacted the Department of Finance for comment but it did not immediately respond. 

Liquor restrictions create problems

Whelly said the liquor restrictions create some unique problems in his community, such as a long line of people filing into the liquor store every day at 3 p.m. like clockwork. Others sell their services outside the liquor store, offering to go buy more bottles for someone else.

He said liquor restrictions in Fort Simpson date back at least 30 years to the 1980s — and he's not sure how they were first put in place.

Fort Simpson is one of 11 communities in the N.W.T. with some liquor restrictions, according to the government handout. 

The village's current restrictions say vendors cannot sell more than this amount of liquor to one person in one day: 

  • 1,140 ml of spirits and 12 355 ml containers of beer.

  • 1,140 ml of spirits and 2 L of wine.

  • 2 L of wine and 12 355 ml containers of beer.

  • 24 355 ml containers of beer and 1L of wine.

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