GN to hold plebiscite to gauge support for Iqaluit beer-wine store
"We realize it’s a giant step to take"
The Government of Nunavut has opted to hold a non-binding plebiscite in Iqaluit later this year to assess support for its proposed pilot wine and beer store.
The GN’s department of finance, which oversees the territory’s liquor commission, said Feb. 2 that it will host a non-binding plebiscite in the territory’s capital, likely in the spring of 2015.
“I think we’re all aware that there concerns raised in previous consultations, a recurring theme which was that we really needed to put this question to the public,” said Chris D’Arcy, deputy minister of finance. “Cabinet decided it would be good to have more information from the public.”
Because the plebiscite will be non-binding, its result will not decide whether the GN will move ahead with the pilot project, but rather it will offer Iqalungmiut another way of weighing in on the issue.
When the GN proposed launching a pilot beer and wine story in the territory, Iqaluit was the only community to express interest, through a petition sent to the territorial government last summer.
Changes to Nunavut’s Liquor Act passed last year allow the possibility of opening a beer and wine store in one of the territory’s non-prohibited communities.
Last fall, the GN started to hold consultations — some targeted special interest groups, while there was also a major public consultation, and an online survey completed by about 300 people.
The October 2014 consultation brought out some 170 Iqaluit residents, the majority of whom spoke out against the pilot project, fearing it will aggravate the city’s existing alcohol-related social problems.
The plebiscite is just the next step in “taking the pulse of Iqaluit residents,” D’Arcy said.
The plebiscite will likely be held at the end of April, he said, before the summer months, when people tend to hunt and travel more often.
D’Arcy said the plebiscite question has yet to be drafted, but will be clear and straightforward, asking Iqalungmiut if they are in favour of seeing a pilot beer and wine store open in the community.
It’s being held under the territory’s new plebiscite act, which came into effect last fall, allowing for locally-authorized plebiscites.
“We realize it’s a giant step to take,” D’Arcy said. “Every needs to completely understand what this is about.”
D”Arcy said his department supports the findings of Nunavut’s 2012 Liquor Task Force, which encouraged the territory to adopt a “harm reduction” approach to alcohol control through a government-owned liquor sales monopoly.
“We think it’s better to move people away from bootlegging and harder liquor and to allow low alcohol alternatives, like beer and wine,” he said.
But in the end, the decision rests with the executive council, or cabinet, he said.
If the Iqaluit plebiscite returns a result overwhelmingly in favour of the pilot store, D’Arcy said the next step would be consulting with other Nunavut communities, to understand potential impacts outside of Iqaluit.