Iqaluit city council narrowly votes to support beer and wine store
Stalemate broken by Mayor Kenny Bell
Iqaluit city councillors and Mayor Kenny Bell voted to support the continued operation of the city’s beer and wine store past September.
Although this doesn’t guarantee the future of the store, which opened as part of a three-year pilot program, for some it’s a step in the right direction.
Tuesday’s city council vote also reflects how a majority of Nunavummiut responded to a territory-wide survey conducted earlier this year on the issue.
“Seventy-five per cent of over 800 respondents to the survey support the continued operation of the Iqaluit beer and wine store,” said Coun. Kyle Sheppard, referencing a CBC article on the subject from April 22.
“And over half of respondents indicated that it led to improvements in our community.“
Since opening, the store has been popular.
In 2018-19 it sold almost one million litres of beer and wine, accounting for 67 per cent of the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission’s revenues that year.
In 2018, halfway through the three-year pilot program, residents were asked for their input.
While residents’ personal reactions were almost equally split, with 43 per cent being positively impacted and 41 per cent being negatively impacted, 78 per cent fewer people reported that they had purchased from a bootlegger after the store opened.
On Tuesday, it was the current council’s turn to have their say, with Deputy Mayor Janet Brewster, Coun. Sheppard and Coun. Malaiya Lucassie all voting in favour.
“I’m going to be in support of this because I’d like the RCMP to crack down on … bootleggers that are taking so much money away from our people,” said Lucassie.
The sentiment was shared by Sheppard.
“The bootlegging activity, like the arrests made in Apex last week, is far more detrimental and causing far more harm in our community with the hard alcohol than I believe we’re seeing from the beer and wine store,” he said.
“I would definitely support keeping the store open as is.”
On the other side of the issue, voting against supporting the continued operation of the beer and wine store, were councillors Solomon Awa, Simon Nattaq and Joanasie Akumalik.
“I don’t think it’s been an improvement, as a personal opinion, but it would be a good idea to get some analysis on these, how much of an effect the pilot project has made on the community,” said Nattaq through interpretation.
Bell responded by offering to have the Government of Nunavut present data at an upcoming council meeting.
“I think the government has good documentation and they’ve been doing a survey a lot about keeping it going or closing, but I think they have a blind eye,” said Akumalik, referring to the opening of the low-barrier shelter in Iqaluit, which he attributes to an increase in alcohol consumption.
Akumalik also echoed Nattaq’s request for further analysis.
“I would rather have more documentation presented to us, rather than a discussion,” he said.
It was a sentiment also shared by Coun. Sheila Flaherty, who abstained from voting.
“I did not realize that this agenda item carried a motion,” she said when asked by Bell if she had a reason for her abstention.
“I need to see a motion in writing.”
Flaherty also requested that the motion reflect comments she had made earlier in the meeting regarding the reiteration of positive messaging about responsible alcohol consumption.
With one abstention, three votes for and three against, Bell was called on to break the tie, for the first time since he’s been mayor.
“After 15 years of liquor enforcement experience, I happily vote in favour of this motion,” he said.
With that, the motion passed and the city’s support will be conveyed to the Government of Nunavut, which will make the final decision regarding the future of Iqaluit’s beer and wine store.