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Beer and wine store opens in Iqaluit
'I believe prohibition has never worked anywhere' - finance minister

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Saturday, September 9, 2017

Almost a decade in the making, Iqaluit's beer and wine store opened Sept. 6 with Finance Minister Keith Peterson its first paying customer.

NNSL photograph

In lieu of a ribbon cutting, Government of Nunavut finance minister Keith Peterson was the first customer at the new Iqaluit beer and wine store Sept. 6. Showing valid photo identification is the first step to making a purchase. - Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

"I believe prohibition has never worked anywhere," said Peterson at a brief press conference prior to purchasing a dozen beers, as a line-up formed outside, and some avid customers marked the occasion with selfies.

Peterson noted the ball first got rolling in 2009 with a task force that visited 25 communities over two-and-a-half years, followed by more consultations.

"There's been a lot of ups and downs, lots of debates in the legislative assembly," said Peterson.

"We did hold a plebiscite April 20, 2015 and the people of Iqaluit voted in favour of a beer and wine store. This is our commitment to them, recognizing their democratic rights."

The end result is a government-regulated store limited to beverages with low alcohol content, namely, beer and wine, as well as a selection of port and vermouth.

"It's a three-year pilot project," said Peterson. "We've got a beautiful facility, very modern. We've got highly-trained and motivated staff."

A key point Peterson and the government have always maintained is that such a store could disrupt bootlegging in the territory. Peterson noted that in some communities people pay $600 for 1.7 litres of spirits.

"That's taking money out of the pockets of people who could use that money to purchase food and clothing for their family," he said. "Evidence from elsewhere, jurisdictions in Greenland and Northern Quebec, show easy access to beer and wine - low-content alcohol - has not increased crime rates."

The government hopes to help reduce binge drinking of spirits.

"We also believe as a government that people should be able to make choices and should be treated like responsible, mature adults," said Peterson.

Nevertheless, there is a daily limit for purchase - two bottles of wine and 12 beers per account. Beer can be purchased individually.

Peterson's assistant deputy minister Dan Carlson later explained $2 million was set aside this year for the Nunavut Liquor Commission's path forward.

"Much of that is for the store but we also took advantage of it to rewire the commission's systems. We made improvements at the headquarters in Rankin. We purchased a new point-of-sale-system so for the first time we're able to connect data across the territory. We took advantage of this to upgrade the old warehouse - this warehouse is 50 years old," said Carlson.

The storefront, built as an addition to the warehouse, does not display alcohol.

"There are a few reasons we went with this. From a cost perspective, we don't need the space to have the inventory out on display. It improves our security and our safety. We don't have to worry about product theft," said Carlson.

"And part of it is a bit of a nod to questions that we heard during the consultations. Not everyone liked the idea of people being able to go in and get product off the shelf."

Carlson also clarified that visitors from other communities can create an account with the commission and make use of the store while in the capital. A customer from a restricted or prohibited community cannot purchase alcohol in the capital and bring it back to their community in contravention of local laws.

"One important thing about the store is that all the costs of the store and of running the store go back to customers of the commission, not taxpayers," said Carlson.

"This store is being paid for by the sales of alcohol."

Meanwhile, Peterson said the government thinks "this is the right way to go in the evolution of our territory."

Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay have also held plebiscites.

"Folk also voted overwhelmingly in favour of beer and wine stores for their communities," said Peterson.

Hand in hand with this evolution came a government program called Let's be Aware, which seeks to educate Nunavummiut on responsible alcohol use.

"A lot of profits from this operation go into that program - $500,000 a year," said Peterson.

Store hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 1 to 7 p.m.

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