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Liquor board to make decisions transparent, MLAs spar over Aurora College, demand for legal weed hazy

Liquor board to make decisions transparent

As the NWT Liquor Licensing Board starts to make moves towards more transparency, Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne had questions in legislative assembly Tuesday about how far those moves would go.

Photo courtesy of the Legislative Assembly (permission given by Ms. Sue Tkachuk, Executive Assistant to Honourable Paul Delorey Speaker of the Legislative Assembly to reprint with credit)
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In an email to the Yellowknifer, liquor board spokesperson Valerie A. Daniels confirmed The board has recently initiated actions to have all orders, licenses, permits, and reasons for decisions published; this will take some time to implement.”

Written decisions of the board are already available to the public upon request.

The liquor board is an arm's-length government agency that regulates liquor sales and manufacturing in the territory and administers parts of the NWT Liquor Act. The board is currently under review by the Finance Department after receiving criticism over secrecy in the process by which members make decisions.

In the legislative assembly Tuesday, Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne said recent decisions by the board hobble local businesses and “went against, in my view, what the assembly's mandate and goals are,” to support local tourism, manufacturing, and job creation.

“The board says that it has an actual policy for not explaining its decisions publicly,” he said, meaning businesses have to retain lawyers in order to engage with the board.

Earlier that day, Vanthuyne denounced the Government of Northwest Territories and the liquor board for placing unnecessary burdens on local microbrewery NWT Brewing Co.

The GNWT taxed NWT brewing at an unreasonably high rate because it feared the up-and-coming company would encroach on the tax revenues of other beers, said Vanthuyne.

The minister of finance has since reduced the tax rate, but the liquor board won't budge on a decision to inhibit private distribution, which ties the company to warehousing and other administrative fees that drive up the cost of NWT brews to approximately $100 more a keg than macro-breweries, according to NWT Brewing Co. co-owner Fletcher Stevens.

“The Liquor Act offers the board the ability to use discretion in its decisions,” said Vanthuyne. “Legislation and policy are only as good as those who administer it.”

Liquor board decisions can be appealed in the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. Vanthuyne called it “a little bit troubling” there is no extra-judicial process by which to contest a liquor-board decision.

The MLA asked if, as part of the government's review of the Liquor Act, it was considering an overhaul of the liquor board.

Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod said the government is “contemplating looking at the board itself, the structure of the board,” but the its priority is to give the board “the proper tools to make decisions and make decisions that are transparent and maybe even published.”

MLAs spar over Aurora College board, review

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green pressed the education minister this week to explain his decision to dismiss the Aurora College's board of governors.

The move, she said, undermines the credibility of the territory's flagship post-secondary institution.

In June, Alfred Moses fired the board and simultaneously appointed a single administrator, Denny Rogers.

In a statement at the time, Moses said the shakeup would ensure “stability and continuity” as the college heads into a foundational review.

The review was announced in March, shortly after the government proposed cutting the college's social work and education programs as a way to rein in spending. It was originally supposed to wrap up this fall, but during question period Wednesday, Moses said the government “just signed the contract” and can't yet commit to an end date.

“They said it would be a six-to-eight month process,” said Green in an interview Wednesday. “That means that it wouldn't be done until the end of the fiscal year.”

In the House, Green questioned the launch of a review when a comprehensive assessment of the college was completed four years ago (that study has not been made public).

In response, Moses said new labour market information will “help guide us and Aurora College into the programs and services that meet the needs and educational needs of NWT residents and Northerners.”

Demand unknown for legal weed

The territorial government doesn't know how high demand for weed will be when it becomes legal next summer.

In the legislative assembly Wednesday, Justice Minister Louis Sebert said he has “no idea what the demand might be,” but that he has heard “it may be considerable.”

The government's dearth of information about consumer demand for cannabis concerns Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart.

“If anyone should know what the demands are, it should be the person responsible for this project,” he said. “It is pretty shocking that (the justice minister) has no clue whatsoever.”

Sebert said it is tricky to gauge demand for a product that's still illegal, but went on to provide numbers from Ottawa that show the federal government is doing just that.

He said Ralph Goodale, the federal minister of public safety, told the GNWT last week that the estimated value of the illegal market is between $7 and $9 billion.

Marijuana is on track to become legal in Canada next July. Rules for the substance's use and sale will be decided by individual provinces and territories.

The Ontario government has proposed cannabis be sold by the government through a subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (marijuana and alcohol will be sold in separate stores).

New Brunswick has signed deals with two federally-licensed growers to supply cannabis to that province.

Testart said he would like the private sector play a leading role in the NWT marijuana market.

“It's time for us to assist in the creation of real opportunities surrounding this new cannabis industry, and not just solely capitalize on them as a source of revenue,” he said.

“It's time to let Northern entrepreneurs take the lead on this file.”