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
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.