Advocating for liquor funds to pay for warming centre

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Jonathon Michel proposes funding John Wayne Kiktorak Centre through liquor sales

Shane Gordon speaks at the town’s committee of the whole meeting Monday, May 8. He was against approving the licensed premises bylaw that would allow The Mad Trapper bar to open an extra 16 Sundays per year. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

The John Wayne Kiktorak Centre, formerly known as the Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre, needs roughly $400,000 per year to operate under ideal conditions.

In the last year, it has been bailed out a couple of times from temporary closure. Government funding provides enough only for the harshest winter months, but staff would like to run it all year if possible.

To that end, Jonathon Michel, part of the Inuvik Volunteer Firefighters Association, which recently made a $38,000 donation to the centre, has looked at the numbers from Inuvik liquor sales and believes a solution can be found there.

He pointed to the Northwest Territories Liquor Commission’s 2015-16 annual report, in which it states that Inuvik operations made a net income of just over $4 million.

“Basically, one-tenth of that could fully fund the John Wayne Kiktorak Centre for one year,” said Michel.

Justifying that funding comes from the liquor commission’s stated goal of promoting social responsibility with regards to alcohol, evidence of which Michel finds somewhat lacking.

“If the GNWT is looking to contribute to social responsibility in a positive manner, this seems like a worthwhile cause,” he said.

Michel said it is only natural that such a large operation, especially one dealing in the business of alcohol, would create some potential for harm.

“It’s self-inflicted through alcoholism, but still it’s a societal concern, and I think the John Wayne Kiktorak Centre allows for a bit of dignity to Northwest Territories residents,” said Michel.

“A lot of us are very privileged and we have jobs and a means to seek housing and food for ourselves, but this population is a part of us too. This type of centre is a very effective and helpful means to ensure that collectively our society is well. At least, it allows more of an opportunity for wellness.”

Michel hasn’t made it very far trying to convince the Department of Finance of the idea, though.

He said he called the minister’s office and was told funds from the Inuvik sales go into the GNWT’s general revenue budget.

Robert McLeod, minister of finance, said though the money goes into the GNWT’s general revenue, a lot of services come back to Inuvik.

“Any surplus from the liquor sales across the NWT go into consolidated general revenue,” said McLeod. “There’s quite a line item for the number of alcohol and mental addiction issues that are brought forward.”

Targeting a percentage of Inuvik sales to go toward an Inuvik program “may affect or take away the ability of the legislative assembly to make budgetary decisions,” he added.

Without knowing the numbers off hand, McLeod guessed that the GNWT spends equal to or more on these type of programs than it receives from liquor sales.