Yellowknife councillors hold spirited debate on alcohol regulation

Yellowknife's downtown liquor store. (Supplied by anonymous.)
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Yellowknife city councillors are not in support of more regulations on the sale of liquor in the city.

Several councillors made clear they would not support reducing the hours of the liquor store or the quantity of alcohol residents can buy during a discussion Monday. These two policy options were brought to councillors by Mayor Rebecca Alty, from research by the University of Victoria, the World Health Organization and a policy review done for Ontario municipalities.

“If we wanted to reduce that heavy intoxication at a certain time of day, we would actually open the liquor store 24 hours a day,” Niels Konge said, an idea he has brought before council before. “I think that having access to alcohol open up and be more available, I think will reduce some of the issues that we’re having in the downtown. The same people are still going to  be heavily intoxicated but you are going to have less of them at the same time.”

Konge added the store should open Sundays, days he says Shoppers Drug Mart experiences the most theft of products containing alcohol.

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“In terms of public health, (I would) rather have people drinking bottled alcohol than hairspray or whatever other products out there that are being used.” 

The idea of a 24-hour liquor store was supported by councillor Stacie Smith, although both she and Konge agreed it was not realistic to expect anyone to run or staff such a store.

Bootlegging and smuggling are likely outcomes if liquor sales are restricted said councillor Cynthia Mufandaedza. This would also mean the city would lose out on income, she added, as alcohol would be coming in from other jurisdictions.

Several councillors argued for a focus on entrepreneurship and opening up alcohol sales to other venues.

“We (governments) always stand in the way of businesses expanding their business,” councillor Steve Payne argued. “I think this is absolutely asinine for a capital city to be even thinking about stuff like this.” Payne says he wants to see salons, barbershops and other businesses being able to serve patrons alcohol.

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Councillor Julian Morse said he would support opening the alcohol sales market to allow beer and wine stores with longer opening hours. Support for beer and wine stores was also voiced by Konge and Councillor Robin Williams. “If entrepreneurial spirit was allowed to grow, we could have some higher end liquor stores, we could have some boutique places,” Williams said.

Allowing the Black Knight to expand their capacity now that they have a patio, and allowing the Woodyard Brew Pub to expand their offerings were also discussed.

Konge even said he would like to be able to sip some wine in the park when outdoor movies are played at Somba K’e. “Part of the problem in North America, in our consumption, is it is seen as taboo. And because it’s taboo, I think that leads a little bit to the binge drinking,” he said, referencing his time in Denmark, a place with beer cheaper than Coca Cola and very little public drunkenness.

Smith said the discussion needs to be about treatment rather than regulation. “Liquor isn’t the issue. Mental health is the issue, addictions is the issue. So if we want to change something we need to go a step above, rather than the item that they’re choosing to focus their addictions on.” Payne agreed more city funds should go to initiatives that instill pride, mentioning the ‘success story’ of the city-funded Yellowknife Women’s Society’s Common Ground program and artist Michael Fatt.

“For sure treatment is important, and we should be continuing to advocate for that, but what are the policy levers that we as a municipal government can pull in this regard?” Alty said of the reason for bringing these ideas to council. No action is planned as result of this discussion, but Alty said future discussions are possible if councillors want to bring anything forward to the Minister of Finance on the NWT’s Liquor Act.

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