Yesterday, Paul Okalik announced his resignation. If you don’t recognize the name, he’s the MLA for Iqaluit-Sinaa.
His resignation wasn’t done to avoid a scandal. It wasn’t done to get around any legal proceedings. It was done for good reason.
As the Minister of Health and Justice as well as the Minister responsible for the Human Rights Tribunal, the Labour Standards Board, suicide prevention, and immigration, he felt an obligation to do right by those who elected him to office.
He has been a voice in the wilderness as he called for alcohol treatment programs that would provide supports and services to his constituents — in smaller communities with strong Inuit traditions already entrenched among its residents instead of in the capital alone.
Yesterday when he resigned, the legislature was discussing opening a beer and wine store in Nunavut’s capital without consideration for balancing the picture with treatment centers that would provide proper supports and services to those in need of them.
Some politicians in the legislature were of the opinion that a liquor store would lessen bootlegging and binge-drinking by providing a legal outlet where alcohol could be purchased.
While it’s true that the foundation work is in place to bring addiction treatment centers into smaller communities, the liquor store — set to open in 2017 — will be in place long before the treatment centers are.
Finance Minister Keith Peterson said, “We have heard all the pros and cons. There are people who are quite concerned, going back 40 or 50 years maybe, that alcohol has been bad for Nunavut and causes a lot of social problems. We believe, through the task force and all our consultations, opening a beer and wine store would offset binge drinking and would reduce profits to bootleggers.”
But is offering the lesser of two evils — a liquor store versus bootlegging — really going to put a stop to binge drinking? Studies have proven that binge drinking is going to happen regardless since an alcoholic doesn’t care about where alcohol comes from as long as the addiction is being satisfied.
Some might say that Okalik is grandstanding but he isn’t. He’s a man who understands what addiction is and what addiction does to an addict.
Paul Okalik is a recovering alcoholic who has walked the straight and narrow path of recovery since 1991.
Iqaluit last had a liquor store in the 1970s but this hasn’t stopped those suffering from addiction to be waylaid by alcohol. Greater accessibility will only worsen the current problem, especially with no supports or services in place to assist those who want to move towards recovery.
What’s more, when addicts come out of a treatment program and return to their communities, without proper supports and services in place, the chances of falling back into addiction is overwhelming.
In an interview with CBC News following his resignation, Okalik stated that, as a minister, he couldn’t live with the principles or decisions of the cabinet when it came to the liquor store.
While it’s laudable that he resigned in light of the situation, it’s unfortunate that it had to come to this. Instead, more politicians should aspire to be more like Paul Okalik and take a stand for what is in the best interests of their constituents.
FORMER PREMIER QUITS NUNAVUT CABINET OVER BEER-WINE STORE
MLA SAYS HE CAN’T SUPPORT ALCOHOL SALES, CITES LACK OF TREATMENT CENTRE
NUNAVUT HEALTH MINISTER QUITS OVER PLAN TO OPEN IQALUIT LIQUOR STORE
NUNAVUT MINISTER QUITS OVER LIQUOR STORE PLAN
PAUL OKALIK RESIGNS OVER NUNAVUT ALCOHOL-SALE PLAN
PREMIER ACCEPTS MINISTER OKALIK’S RESIGNATION