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Brewer Daniel Campbell, left, surveys his keg-filled domain with Fletcher Stevens,right, co-owner of the NWT Brewing Companing and the Woodyard Brewhouse & Eatery. Stevens would like to be able to sell those kegs directly to Yellowknife businesses, but the NWT Liquor Licensing Board isn’t having it. (Jessica Davey-Quantick/NNSL photo)

Laws and regulations should serve a good purpose and normally, they do.

Roads have speed limits to save lives. There are laws against drinking and driving for the same reason. Regulations that stipulate food safety standards for restaurants exist so people don’t get sick. Cities have noise bylaws to insulate those who need a good night’s sleep from those who party into the morning.

But Yellowknifer is at a loss as to why the NWT’s Liquor Licensing Board has barred NWT Brewing from distributing its own beer.

Legally, all beer made by NWT Brewing must be sold to the NWT Liquor Commission and then sold to customers through the commission. One exception to this rule is beer sold at the Woodyard restaurant, which is attached to the brewery, is sold directly to customers. This is because NWT liquor regulations allow for a way to circumvent it so as to allow the brewpub to function efficiently.

For distribution, however, liquor regulations require the brewery to sell its beer to the liquor commission, which will then truck to its warehouse, slap some fees on top of what is already one of the highest beer taxes in Canada, and then that keg will be available for restaurants and bars to purchase. What NWT Brewing owners Fletcher and Miranda Stevens would like to do instead is put that keg in the back of their truck and drive it right over to whoever orders it.

The liquor board can permit this form of distribution if it likes. The brewery has asked for this to happen and the Department of Finance, which administers the commission, has endorsed the request. But the Liquor Licensing Board says no. Why? We may never know.

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Finance department spokesperson Todd Sasaki explained the decision is outside of the Liquor Commission’s purview, as the Liquor Licensing Board operates at “arm’s length” from the GNWT.

So what does the board have to say about its decision?
“The board does not discuss specific cases that may be brought before it,” stated board manager Jaimie Graham in an email to Yellowknifer.

The NWT Liquor Licensing Board’s decision forces NWT Brewing – a local business – into a situation where it will have to charge approximately $100 more per keg than what a major brewery pays to have the same amount of beer shipped up from the south. And the board doesn’t even have to explain why.

If Yellowknifer didn’t know better, it would almost seem as though the territorial government has created a monster. Some of the biggest challenges territorial leaders face are economic – diversification, growth and the task of earning the NWT a reputation for being a great place to do business. If the 18th Legislative Assembly is going to do these things, it must hold its regulatory boards accountable.

The NWT Liquor Licensing Board may operate at “arm’s length” from the government but it is still, by definition, within reach. Unless there is a very, very good reason for it, the board is abusing its power by overriding a recommendation made by the Department of Finance, which created the board in the first place.

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