Without explaining why it has allowed a single businessman to sell almost every drop of legal alcohol and every bud of legal cannabis in Yellowknife, the Government of the Northwest Territories says it will now help bar owners with the increasing cost of alcohol.
That follows a bitter complaint by a downtown bar owner who says his bottled beer bill increased by 18 per cent after he was forced to obtain the suds from the Uptown Liquor Shop.
Kilt and Castle owner Bob Stewart says the hike followed the recent closing of the government-run liquor warehouse in Yellowknife.
Ed Eggenberger, operator of Yellowknife’s two liquor stores, has essentially been allowed by the government to corner the legal alcohol and marijuana market in the city.
In a news release issued Friday afternoon, the GNWT states that the Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission (NTLCC) has recently changed its approach to liquor distribution within Yellowknife as the contract for the Yellowknife Liquor Warehouse expired.
The release indicates that the changes have resulted in lower alcohol prices overall, but that an unintended consequence of the change was higher costs for liquor license holders, mainly bars and restaurants.
The government states that to lessen the impact of these increases, the commission has implemented a discount program for liquor license holders in Yellowknife and across the NWT.
Officials have not released details of the discount program to the media but Stewart tells CKLB that it amounts to a roughly ten per cent decrease for bottled beer – meaning it’s still about eight per cent higher than it used to be.
He doesn’t blame Eggenberger but Stewart says the government is fully responsible for fostering an alcohol monopoly.
“By allowing this it seems the government has given him a monopoly when they had the option to (make) the market competitive,” Stewart says. “It should be one of the mandates of government to break down monopolistic situations in order to maintain a free market.”
The Minister of Finance has also instructed the NTLCC to undertake a complete review of its current pricing formula given the unintended consequences that led to the price changes on April 1st.
Consultations with liquor license holders and others will be included in that review.
“The hospitality industry is an important part of our economy. The changes we are making support this sector and ensure fairness across the NWT,” stated Robert C. McLeod, Minister of Finance, in the news release.
Some Yellowknife MLAs and at least two would-be cannabis entrepreneaus have said it’s unfair to give the marijuana market to Eggenberger who already controls the city’s booze sales.
CKLB tried unsuccessfully to reach out to Eggenberger for reaction.