Two Nunavut communities decide beer and wine store future Monday

Voters in two of Nunavut’s largest communities will decide Monday if there will be a beer and wine store in each of the communities.

(Iqaluit voted to allow a beer and wine store to open in April 2015. There is no store yet. Photo: Steve Mongeau/APTN)

Kent Driscoll
APTN National News
Voters in two of Nunavut’s largest communities will decide Monday if there will be a beer and wine store in each of the communities.

Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet will vote in a non-binding ballot to decide whether to open a store selling beer and wine.

Both communities allow alcohol – but only if they import it.

But a simple yes vote doesn’t guarantee success.

In 2015, Iqaluit residents voted 77 percent in favour of a beer and wine outlet – but that outlet has yet to open.

The latest announced date has it opening this summer.

Nunavut’s current alcohol regime is multi-tiered and complex. Individual communities decide whether to be completely dry, to allow some alcohol with a committee approving orders, or simply allowing alcohol to be shipped in freely.

A public vote with a 60 percent majority is needed to change a community’s status. To trigger that vote, you only need the signatures of 20 voters.

Under Nunavut’s current system, if a community allows alcohol, it must be shipped in from another community. For example, both Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet have liquor ware houses, but are not allowed sell locally.

If you live in Iqaluit, you have to order from Rankin Inlet, and vice versa. The two communities are 90 minutes away by air.

Meanwhile, restaurant and bar orders are filled from the warehouse in their community.

As a result, most people ordering legally opt to have their alcohol shipped in by plane from Southern Canada, for convenience and selection. In either case, in addition to the air freight costs, a liquor import permit must be purchased.

Government members have argued that allowing for beer and wine sales will reduce the harm caused by hard liquor, the beverage of choice among bootleggers.

Former premier and then Justice minister Paul Okalik left Nunavut’s cabinet, saying he could not support a beer and wine store unless the government opened an alcohol treatment facility in Iqaluit.

Nunavut currently has no such facility.

Six of Nunavut’s communities currently don’t allow alcohol at all, 14 follow the committee system, and the remaining six are wide open.

In the end, if Iqaluit is any indication, it could be years until they see a store front. The capital of Nunavut voted to open a store in April 2015, but there is no store yet.

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