Keith Peterson slams Paul Okalik's 'alternate facts' on Iqaluit beer and wine store

Nunavut Finance Minister Keith Peterson pulled a page from U.S. politics Thursday in the legislature in defending his government's plan to open a beer and wine store in Iqaluit.

Peterson accused Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik of using "alternate facts" – a reference to Kellyanne Conway's infamous "alternative facts" phrase from January – in his reply to the budget address. In the budget address, Peterson said opening Iqaluit's beer and wine store is a mechanism to disrupt bootlegging and reduce harm caused by binge-drinking.

Okalik made his reply Feb. 22 in Inuktitut and his remarks were translated in the Hansard.

"I counted six references to a liquor store," said Peterson Thursday about Okalik's statement.

"I heard that inadequate consultations had occurred with respect to opening a beer and wine store. Finally, I heard that a treatment centre should be opened in Iqaluit before a beer and wine store because it would cause drinking problems. 

"These are clearly alternate facts and I would be remiss if I did not respond accordingly."

Enough consultations?

After clarifying the store would sell beer and wine, and not hard liquor, Peterson reminisced back to 2014 when he got a petition asking that his department hold consultations.

Since then, he said, local interest groups were invited to weigh in, and he referenced an online survey where 95 per cent of the 310 respondents were in favour of the store, and the city plebiscite where 78 per cent of 1,452 voters supported the beer and wine store.

Peterson also noted the public meeting in Iqaluit in October 2014 drew more than 100 people.

However Okalik had cited a statement Peterson made in the legislature in September 2015, where Peterson said communities that are close to the outlet would be consulted. Okalik said he never heard if those adjacent communities were ever consulted, and Peterson didn't address that on Thursday.

Okalik also said during that public meeting, many elders expressed concern over the outlet.

"They had a very serious impact on me, and that's why I wanted to provide my support to them," Okalik said.

"It seems like the elders' concerns were not listened to."

Treatment centre 

Okalik had also stressed the need for a treatment centre if the store opens.

Peterson addressed that, too.

"Some basic Google research revealed that an 18-bed treatment centre was located in Apex until 1998," Peterson said, adding that it appears it closed because it was too expensive to operate.

"Some additional research in Hansard and Googling various media articles over the years beginning in 2000, reveals that there were good intentions to open a treatment type facility in Nunavut but it never materialized."

Alcohol already legally available in Iqaluit

Peterson finished by listing off seven ways Iqaluit residents and visitors can legally get alcohol in town, adding that a microbrewery is slated to open in the city.

"A beer and wine store is not going to solve the well-documented issues that some people have with alcohol. As I stated, it will offer people an alternative to purchasing hard liquor from bootleggers and reduce binge drinking," Peterson said.

"The decision to open a beer and wine store was not an easy one to make but we believe it is the right decision to make at this moment in our history."