Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod has instructed the Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission (NTLCC) to “undertake a complete review of its current pricing formula,” after the closure of a liquor warehouse increased the price of alcohol.
Last month the NTLCC ended its contract with a warehouse near the airport, meaning Yellowknife's two liquor stores will now be responsible for distributing the city's booze supply.
The move to close the liquor distribution warehouse was a decision the GNWT made after an internal assessment, stated Todd Sasaki, spokesperson for both the Department of Finance and the NTLCC, in an email.
The completion of the Deh Cho Bridge means alcohol is more readily available from Alberta and stockpiling it in the warehouse is no longer necessary, he said.
Businesses were notified of the change by email in January and late March. The second email warned there would be a “modest price increase” as a result of the change, said Sasaki.
Sasaki could not say how much prices would increase, but a restaurant manager Yellowknifer spoke with noted a five to eight per cent increase in alcohol costs since the liquor stores took over distribution.
Bob Stewart, owner of the Kilt and Castle Pub, voiced concern over lack of consultation, and how the change would impact his business. Stewart heard there was a survey sent to liquor licence holders in August, but said he must have missed it.
“Even if they did a survey, what were the results of that survey?” he asked. “I highly doubt that the service industry would have given positive reactions to this.”
Yellowknifers are already concerned about the cost of living, and Stewart said higher alcohol prices only add to the burden.
“If we don’t do something about stopping the rising price and the public doesn’t speak out, it’s never going to stop,” he said.
“This issue of raising prices only came up ten days before the actual change was supposed to happen,” said Stewart.
He is also concerned liquor stores do not have the room to warehouse the city's alcohol.
“The shops as far as I can see are already packed to the gills with what they already are selling,” said Stewart.
The closure of the liquor distribution warehouse is not news to MLA Cory Vanthuyne.
“We were, as MLAs, in fact informed that there was a review being done of the liquor warehouse by the liquor commission and that was over a year ago,” he said.
“I can only assume then that the liquor commission, through doing a review, decided that they were no longer going to use the warehouse.”
Regarding a cost increase, Vanthuyne speculated prices might actually stabilize after the closure due to reduced maintenance costs associated with the warehouse.
The NTLCC had implemented a “discount program for liquor license holders to mitigate the impact of any increases,” states an April 12 news release from the Department of Finance.
“The NTLCC is currently working on revising its pricing formula to ensure the prices paid by licensees are similar the prices they paid before April 1,” stated Sasaki.
“Those licensees that purchased product before the new prices are implemented will be provided a rebate for the difference.”
The NTLCC will apply the discount program to liquor purchased since April 1.
Yellowknifer originally sent a request about the proposed changes to the Department of Finance on March 27 and received a response 13 days later on April 9.
In addition, a request to speak with members of the Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission (NTLCC) about the decision-making process behind the change was not returned.