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Plebiscite ekes out a 'yes' to unrestricted liquor sales in Baker Lake, Nunavut

Baker Lake, Nunavut, has voted to remove liquor restrictions in the community.

60.1% of voters supported unrestricted liquor sales

The plebiscite saw 32 per cent voter turnout, with 179 voting to abolish the restrictions and 119 voting to keep the status quo. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Baker Lake, Nunavut, has voted to remove liquor restrictions in the community.

Sixty per cent of voters were needed to end current liquor restrictions in the community.  By close of voting, 60.1 per cent of voters cast ballots in favour of ending the restrictions.

Under the unrestricted system, Baker Lake residents will be able to order liquor from warehouses in Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit without a permit. 

The local alcohol education committee, which reviewed applications and issued permits allowing residents to purchase alcohol, will be abolished as a result of the vote, but not quite yet.

The Nunavut government needs to make regulatory changes, and until they do, the community will remain a restricted community.

Simeon Mikkungwak, the MLA for Baker Lake, says the Minister of Finance expects to bring the changes forward in the March sitting of the Legislative Assembly.

'The voters have spoken'

The question asked was: "Are you in favour of ending the current system of liquor restriction in Baker Lake and having an unrestricted system where only the general liquor laws of Nunavut apply?"

The plebiscite drew 32 per cent voter turnout, with 179 voting to abolish the restrictions and 119 voting to keep the status quo. Four ballots were rejected.

"That's a very close vote, I think the four that were rejected could have indicated the [vote] could gone either way," said Mikkungwak. "The voters have spoken." 

He says low voter turnout might have something to do with the cold weather on voting day, Jan. 22. The temperature hit a low of –39 C.

Nunavut's liquor management team, who held a public consultation in advance of the vote, will return to the community to help with the transition, Mikkungwak said.

Elder says she wasn't aware of vote

Martha Martee, an elder from Baker Lake, says she didn't find out about the vote until after the results were announced.

She says if she had been aware of it, she would have voted no.

"We are losing our youth to substance abuse. I just recently lost my great-nephew to suicide because he killed himself under the influence of alcohol," said Martee, in Inuktitut.

"It can have very negative impacts on those who don't know the effects of it ... There was never anything like [alcohol] here when I was growing up in Baker Lake. It's very different."

Martee says she hopes there will be more consultations in the future to ensure all residents are prepared for this type of change.

She also wants to see more resources for families that may need support for alcohol or substance abuse.

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