Dehcho
Health

Residents in Fort Simpson wait on alcohol plebiscite


Fort Simpson residents hoping to lift alcohol restrictions in the community say they are still waiting for a response from the territorial government to a plebiscite request.

More than 150 signatories sent a request for a plebiscite to the village council late last year. Permanent liquor restrictions in NWT communities can only be amended by plebiscite (public vote).

The village’s restrictions were in place long before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. The pandemic led to similar measures being imposed elsewhere in the NWT.

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In April, a territory-wide daily spending cap and purchase limit – of $200 per day and up to six mickeys – was placed on alcohol sales at the territory’s liquor stores. The NWT government said this was an attempt to reduce bootlegging, a longstanding issue, during the pandemic.

Those restrictions didn’t affect the store in Fort Simpson, where restrictions already existed. Currently, Fort Simpson residents have a daily limit of:

  • three 375-ml containers of spirits and 12 containers of beer; or
  • three 375-ml containers of spirits and two bottles of wine; or
  • two bottles of wine (max two litres) and 12 containers of beer; or
  • one bottle of wine and 24 containers of beer.

In December 2019, following receipt of the request from residents, village council passed a resolution asking the territory’s finance minister to hold a plebiscite regarding the cancellation of Fort Simpson’s liquor restrictions.

Mayor Sean Whelly says the village is still waiting to hear from the minister, Caroline Wawzonek.

“Three, four months ago, we had sent in a letter to the Minister of Finance,” he said. “Since then, we really just got the response that due to Covid, nothing could really be done – but the minister was going to take a look at it as things changed.”

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‘The people want a vote’

Whelly hopes that may now happen as the territory enters phase two of its pandemic recovery plan.

He expects the department may look to consult with other groups, such as local First Nations and surrounding communities who use the liquor store, before a plebiscite goes ahead.

“But it was the community’s request and there were a fair number of signatures made,” said Whelly. “So I think people do want to have a vote. I don’t think we’ve ever had an actual vote on liquor restrictions in Fort Simpson.”

Todd Sasaki, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance, confirmed the village’s request had been received.

“The Department of Finance will be working with the Village of Fort Simpson in the coming weeks on the issue of their request for a plebiscite,” Sasaki said.

No plans to alter NWT-wide restrictions

The department said there are no planned changes to the current territory-wide restrictions put in place during the pandemic.

“There is currently no time frame for removing the purchase limits,” said Sasaki.

“Once the minister has removed the $200 per-customer per-day limit, the public will be notified and liquor stores will resume sales as usual.

“Removal of the limits will depend on the success of the Emerging Wisely plan and the continuation of a state of emergency in the NWT.”

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