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Dehcho

Fort Simpson liquor plebiscite had enough public notice, NWT says


Residents were given proper notice of a vote to remove Fort Simpson’s liquor purchasing restrictions, according to NWT finance minister Caroline Wawzonek.

MLA for Nahendeh Shane Thompson – also a minister – posted to Facebook on Monday regarding concerns constituents had raised about the plebiscite held on November 12.

Specifically, the post related to concerns about how much public notice was provided leading up to the vote and how to contact the official in charge of it.

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Residents ultimately voted overwhelmingly in favour of lifting alcohol restrictions in the community. Of 730 eligible voters, 240 cast a ballot and 175 of those were in favour of removing restrictions.

The Department of Finance, which oversees liquor regulations in the NWT, is now in the process of implementing the result, which may take several weeks.

Thompson’s post relayed a message he had received from Wawzonek addressing concerns.

“Based on all of the information I have received to date, I am confident in the integrity of the plebiscite held in the village of Fort Simpson,” Wawzonek’s message to Thompson reads.

Wawzonek states some residents who attend school away from Fort Simpson believe they did not receive adequate notice of the plebiscite. She concludes, however, that there was sufficient notice within the village, on Facebook, and through the media in the weeks and months before the vote.

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She adds returning officer Tammie Cazon fulfilled her duties in the Local Authorities Elections Act by providing public notice of the plebiscite, including details on how and where to vote.

Wawzonek says Cazon met legislative requirements by posting public notices in five locations – the bank, the Northern store, the Unity store, the Nahanni Inn and Pandaville restaurant.

“It is not the responsibility of the returning officer to locate and notify every resident of the community who may not be currently living in the community. That would be an impossible task,” Wawzonek writes.

“Voters bear some of the responsibility for informing themselves about how to exercise their democratic right to vote.”

The final concern regards the returning officer’s email address and confusion about how to reach Cazon.

Wawzonek again asserts faith in the process, saying her department confirmed with Cazon only one email address was distributed for voters to use.

Proxy voting was an option in the plebiscite but, according to Wawzonek, Cazon did not receive any emails related to proxy voting.

The community of Fort Simpson requested the plebiscite after a petition with more than 150 signatures from residents was turned in to the village council late last year, asking for action to try to remove the restrictions.

Restrictions are set to be lifted in the coming weeks, though an exact date has not been set.

Once the regulations are changed and restrictions lifted, the village is still bound to pandemic-related alcohol restrictions, which limit customers to a maximum of $200 per day at any liquor store in the territory and six mickeys (375-ml bottles) of spirits in a 24-hour period.

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