Closing Iqaluit’s beer, wine store would undo progress, says GN

Finance Department says it’s working with communities to address concerns over lack of liquor importation limits

The lineup for the beer and wine store is seen in Iqaluit in March 2020. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Emma Tranter

Iqaluit’s beer and wine store cannot be closed through a plebiscite or petition, according to Nunavut’s Department of Finance.

The response comes after Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell said during a recent city council meeting that he wants to launch a petition over whether to close the store.

Bell said he wants to see the store close because he believes the GN not only isn’t doing enough to curb violence, but it also isn’t regulating how much liquor people can import through the store.

Finance Department spokesperson Weichien Chan says the department has reviewed “all available data” from the store’s pilot project and has already decided it will stay open permanently.

“There is no process in territorial legislation to close an NULC store through a petition or plebiscite,” Chan wrote in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

“There is still more work to be done to address bootlegging in Nunavut but closing the Iqaluit store and undoing the progress we have made on that front will not achieve our other efforts any faster.”

Iqaluit’s beer and wine store launched as a three-year pilot project in 2017. At a 2020 city council meeting, Bell broke a tie and voted to support the store after councillors found themselves in a deadlocked vote over whether it should stay open permanently.

In an interview with Nunatsiaq News, Bell said he has since spoken with Finance Department staff and he now plans to go through the Plebiscite Act to run the petition, not the Liquor Act, which he originally said he intended to use.

But, Bell said, he’s only going to take this route if the department doesn’t commit to restricting its current liquor-permitting process.

“Hopefully we can just avoid a plebiscite altogether … I’d rather work with them, of course,” Bell said.

Right now, there is no restriction to how much liquor a person in Iqaluit can import through the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission.

Chan said over a two-month period, the average size of a liquor permit in Iqaluit was 10.71 litres of spirits.

Dustin Fredlund, the chief electoral officer with Elections Nunavut, said it’s possible Bell could organize a plebiscite through the Plebiscite Act, but the act requires 20 per cent of eligible voters in a community to sign a petition that supports holding it.

If Bell does that, the plebiscite can happen, but the Government of Nunavut and Elections Nunavut do not pay for plebiscites.

“It is costly and there’s quite a bit of manpower required,” Fredlund said.

He estimates holding a plebiscite in Iqaluit could cost $70,000 to $100,000.

And even if it were successful, the Finance Department would still have the final say over the fate of the store.

Bell said he still wants to give people in Iqaluit a chance to voice their opinion.

“It’s about making sure that we continue on the path of change for the betterment of our community, instead of staying status quo and letting things get worse,” he said.

“At the end of the day, I just want the public to be able to speak. And if they don’t want it, that’s OK.”

Fredlund said a municipal corporation could also request a plebiscite. If done that way, a petition would not be needed, he said.

City council would need to agree to request the plebiscite, but Bell said that’s not what he plans to do at the moment because it would mean breaking the motion that already passed in 2020, to keep the store open.

He said he also hasn’t ruled out bringing a new motion to council, though.

Chan said the department is reaching out to Bell and city council to discuss concerns about local liquor permits.

She also said that at the request of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, the Finance Department is exploring import limits “as a possible way to help curb the illegal importation and distribution of alcohol in communities.”

To that end, the liquor plebiscite in Kugluktuk held in May — where residents brought back restrictions — introduced a first-of-its-kind “restricted by quantity system, which will introduce restricted import permits.

“We will be monitoring the impacts and implementation of this new type of restricted permit limit to inform our approach to new local or territorial import limits,” Chan wrote.

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(36) Comments:

  1. Posted by 867 on

    “Right now, there is no restriction to how much liquor a person in Iqaluit can import through the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission. Chan said over a two-month period, the average size of a liquor permit in Iqaluit was 10.71 litres of spirits.”

    I don’t think the B&W store is the problem here. The problem is the massive liquor orders that people are making through the GN. Instead of pushing a plebiscite, maybe push the MLA’s to pass a law to implement purchase limits with orders. Nobody should be allowed to buy that much liquor.

    • Posted by The real problem on

      There are many people that should not be allowed to buy any amount of alcohol. That’s where the problem is, when they buy even just a little bit. In a civilized society people buy what they want, and default back to buying sensible as civilized as they are.

      • Posted by Many people on

        We cant tell people what they can and cannot do with their money. There are many people that should not be allowed to gamble, shop online, take massive loans for “toys” that will just rust away, etc… Buying liquor in an unrestricted community is not like a obtaining a drivers licence or a gun licence. It is not a privilige.

  2. Posted by Ragin Ronnie on

    What a cash cow for the GN. They build a shelter of some sorts to protect the patrons from the elements.

    • Posted by Not a cash cow on

      Have you actually read their financial statements? They publish them every year and it is definitely not a cash cow.

  3. Posted by Bert Rose on

    For an official of the GN to speak directively on a political matter is exactly why people across Nunavut do not believe that GN staff have their best interests at heart.

    • Posted by Sigh… on

      It’s reasonable for the GN to deliver this information through spokespeople. Politicians do not need to speak to every issue, every time – it’s better that they don’t. In this case, both officials provide info related to the issue: a) there’s nothing in law that allows the Mayor to close the store by plebiscite b) plebiscites are expensive to taxpayers c) the GN is looking at ways to address the actual issue (bootlegging) d) the average permit is for roughly a case of booze (this says to me that for every bootlegger who brings in way too many bottles there are many more adults who import just a bottle or two) and e) the Mayor could actually try to do something useful by calling a plebiscite on whether Iqaluit should restrict itself like Kugluktuk. None of that information is inappropriate coming from an official instead of a politician.

    • Posted by Her Job on

      She is the spokesperson, it is her job. Everything that she’s saying will have been reviewed and vetted by the assistant minister or minister.

    • Posted by Curious Kal on

      What topic would you say is not political enough that you might be satisfied with an official speaking on it?

    • Posted by 100% on

      I agree, the managers, directors are the driving force for the GN, they ultimately decide what our MLAs will know and what information they will review.
      You see this when the MLAs are discussing items and issues, if the MLAs don’t completely look into things or do their research it’s very easy for officials at the GN to get their way.
      This has been a problem since Nunavut came to be.
      Premier PaulQ tried to make changes in DM ADM and other officials and we saw how that went.
      These guys have way too much pull in our government and we don’t know who they are as they are not elected.
      We need stronger political leaders, ones that don’t play games to try and get into Premiership or Ministerial positions.

  4. Posted by Huh? on

    What happened to the class action lawsuit against northwestel? Mayor back down?

    • Posted by John K on

      People who blame everything on alcohol are easier votes.

      • Posted by Targeting alcohol on

        People who blame everything on alcohol are misunderstood people. These people know better than blaming alcohol, but the audience they have knows not any better. Blaming alcohol, and voting to take it away from idiots is really what it’s all about. You see, those people who blame alcohol, are knowledgeable enough to know that idiots can’t be changed, there fore you must cut their source of energy to idiotic behaviour. They’ll still be idiots, but with less violent outcomes.

  5. Posted by Make Iqaluit Great Again on

    A person who commented on the earlier story summed it up nicely when he said that Bell is conflating (mixing together) two very separate issues relating to the consumption of liquor in Nunavut. The first issue is the store, where people can locally purchase wine beer and low alcohol beverages in regulated amounts. The second and different issue is people obtaining permission from the government to import hard alcohol into the territory. If Mayor Bell thinks that importing alcohol into the territory is a problem, closing the store is a completely nonsensical response to that problem. In fact, it would only make his problem worse in that problematic importation that he speaks about would only increase tenfold if the store was to close.
    I’m not a lawyer and would never want to be one, but a plain reading of the liquor act leads me to conclude as a regular person that this whole liquor permit abuse issue is a red herring. The liquor act says that the government MAY allow people to import alcohol into Nunavut. It doesn’t say anywhere that there is some sacred right to import, or to import alcohol in an unlimited amount. The Minister of Finance could direct the people at the permit office tomorrow that residents will only be given permission to import certain alcohol in certain amounts and for certain periods of time only and that’s it!! Problem solved!! I beg the Minister of Finance or Justice to direct his bureaucrats accordingly so that sanity can prevail and Mayor Bell can move on to some other tirade!

  6. Posted by Middle man on

    Government of Nunavut is the middleman for bootleggers

  7. Posted by I don’t get it on

    Why does it take a commentor to point out that the beer and wine store has nothing to do with the issue Mayor Bell is raising. Why aren’t our news sources digging deeper. Hold our elected officials accountable and stop with the clickbait

    • Posted by Long time here on

      I agree 100%

      I have been a follower of this publication for over a decade and it feels like superficial analysis is more of a problem now than I recall it ever being.

  8. Posted by Doesn’t know an act from his elbow on

    “There is no process in territorial legislation to close an NULC store through a petition or plebiscite,”

    The former liquor inspector doesn’t know the liquor act?

  9. Posted by Stanky Leg on

    Soooo… Bell wants to close BnW over alcohol that BnW doesn’t sell ? Sounds about right… When is Bell going to be taken to task for punching someone outside Northmart ? Or we just turning a blind eye to that?

  10. Posted by Again on

    Again, we have a mayor that has no idea what he is doing. He doesn’t understand the issue that he is trying to solve. Water, crisis, Taxing the churches, Everything he has done.

    • Posted by S on

      the ONLY issue KB is trying to solve is how he can appeal to enough naivete and complacency to get reelected

      • Posted by One term mayor on

        He said he was only doing one term as Mayor. Lord help us if he changes his mind although if anyone even remotely runs against him he will lose. He’s become a running joke

  11. Posted by S on

    GN, Iqaluit council; does it matter which is more incompetent and corrupt?

    • Posted by Chances on

      Kinda of makes sense for both to be incompetent, the city councilors more then likely work for the GN. They bring thier incompetence from the workplace to the coucil chambers

  12. Posted by Inuk on

    What expertise does the Dept. of Finance have to make decisions on liquor control, consumption, and management? None. It deals with dollars and cents.

    Yet, with all the wisdom that the GN has, this is the dept. that makes those decisions. Typical GN decision making.

    • Posted by Jaret the one eyed gopher on

      What expertise does Kenny Bell have? His decision to shut it down is a purely political decision to make us all forget about his physical fights and initial denials of the water crisis. The nice thing about buying from the booze store is that you know exactly what’s in your booze. Drinking the city’s water is a gamble – either too much fuel or too much chlorine.

  13. Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

    Did NN clarify with Ms Chan if the “average” permit of 10 liters per order/permit included the amount that the local bars ordered or just the population in general?

    10 liters per order seems like an awful lot for one person to order.

  14. Posted by Midnight on

    Back in the day when Frobisher Bay Started
    There were probably not enough happy pills for transits coming up north to work
    So they were able to order any amount of liquor to keep them happy that’s why there is no limit to the alcohol that can be ordered
    It’s so tiring to see one judging the other saying it’s to much
    But in real fact the real big problem now in Iqaluit is the HARD DRUGS coming in mixing with the liquor makes a bad mix

    There has been a big problem with cocaine and extasy and speed
    That is the real issue that no one want to talk about or admit in the municipal and government level

  15. Posted by Chan on

    “There is still more work to be done to address bootlegging in Nunavut but closing the Iqaluit store and undoing the progress we have made on that front…”

    Opening a beer and wine store does not equal addressing bootlegging problem. There has been no progress made on the bootlegging front. Bootleggers are plenty busy. Even if that wasn’t the case though, I’m not sure why Finance the department that would be addressing this illegal activity. The only progress they can comment on with any kind of expertise is the money the store brings in for the government. Bootleggers don’t generate money for the government, and that’s why Finance doesn’t like them. It has nothing to do with social issues and progress on that front. When Finance says “progress”, they are talking about money.

  16. Posted by Midnight on

    Surely they were able to close a liquor Store here before because of the trouble it do cause
    What’s the trouble in closing the beer and wine store

  17. Posted by Phillip Perkins on

    I don’t know about anybody else but I’m sick and tired of this city’s paternalism. Constantly regulating our degree of freedom in the name of,” for their own good “. Bootleggers thrive because the store does not sell hard liquor. Get this through your thick skulls, booze is booze. Beer, wine or vodka can equally mess a person up if abused. The bootleggers sell 60 ounce bottles, that’s it, take it or leave it. The people want alcohol and it won’t change. So therefore, open the store and regulate it in the same manner as beer and wine. STOP taking away the freedom the rest of this country takes for granted. We have to stop building dams , dams burst. Instead, re-direct the river. Your rules and regulations are fueling the fire. Oh Canada, let our freedom reign and open the damn store. It is the only way that will lead to responsible drinking and actually cripple the bootleggers.

    • Posted by Chan on

      It’s too late. They already built a dam years ago, after they screwed everything up. Once a dam is built and cities are built in the vicinity, you can’t just decide to tear it down, just like that. It would destroy everything that’s been built around it. If they tear it down, there has to be a slow, well thought-out process.

  18. Posted by Umingmak on

    Kenny Bell is so out of touch with reality that it’s insane. Every day he seems to be saying and doing things that are entirely self-serving and completely in opposition to Iqaluitmiut.

  19. Posted by Phillip Perkins on

    I said redirect the river, that of course takes time and planning and talking and talking to the elders and talking some more and then implementing and then talk some more and then vote. It could take years for common sense to sink in. I know where I live brother, it took 7 years to name the streets. It was just a thought I needed to vent.

  20. Posted by qikiqtaalummiu on

    we need new elected officials enough said

  21. Posted by TSA on

    If they open those store, they should atleast allow rest of all communities to make order permits for beer and wine only. If not close them all.

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