The recent amendments to the Yukon’s antiquated liquor laws have many of the territory’s entrepreneurs eagerly drawing up plans for new pubs.
The Yukon Party government promised to enact the amendments this summer.
However, the summer is nearly over and would-be bar owners are still waiting.
“It’s in the hands of the politicians right now to sign it and they haven’t done that,” said Bernie Phillips, owner of Historical Guest House Bed and Breakfast.
“In my opinion, I think that they’re catering to existing interests that want it delayed so that they can get the summer business out of it.”
Phillips has big plans for a little pub next door to his bed and breakfast on Wood Street.
The neighbourhood pub would be located in a historic log house and provide a relaxing place for patrons to socialize and sip an after work pint.
The new watering hole would provide outdoor seating, live music and standard pub fare, said Phillips.
“It’ll be a totally different atmosphere than what’s available in the other larger bars around town.”
The major difference will be that Phillips’ neighbourhood pub won’t be attached to a hotel.
Amendments to the Liquor Act included the elimination of a requirement that each bar provide a certain number of hotel rooms.
This has meant that hotel owners have had a monopoly on the territory’s taverns.
Other modernizing amendments included increasing penalties for violations and easing labour laws for minors.
The amendments were passed in legislature on May 15.
“The next step is to have the regulations finalized and approved by cabinet,” said Yukon Liquor Corporation vice-president Virginia LaBelle.
“At that time cabinet will pick a date when the changes to the act will be proclaimed into force.
“I don’t have a more specific time frame to give you, I’m sorry.”
It’s perfectly normal to have to take some time reviewing new regulations, said LaBelle.
“Having them ready as soon as the legislation is passed would have been exceptionally fast,” she said.
“Normally it takes anywhere from six to 12 months after the act has been passed for regulations to be finalized.”
However, when the amendments were passed in the legislature, the Yukon Party government promised to make the changes much sooner.
“We anticipate bringing the amendments into force this spring and are working on them at this moment in time,” Minister Jim Kenyon said in the legislature on April 14.
“We will ensure that all Yukoners may benefit from the changes this summer.”
Kenyon was the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation when the amendments were passed, a job that has been taken over by Brad Cathers.
So far, Cathers has not lived up to his predecessor’s promise.
Keith Jacobsen has already begun renovations at his new brewpub at the old Capital Hotel.
“What our renovations right now entail is actually deleting the hotel rooms upstairs because it would be too much money to bring them up to code,” said Jacobsen.
“And if they’re going to change the laws anyway we may as well just delete them and turn it into office space.”
Jacobsen is currently planning to open the new brewpub sometime around late October or November.
“But I might not be able to open the bar until they change the regulations,” he said.
“If I get to a point where I could open but I can’t because I can’t get a licence, then I’m going to be screwed for that amount of time.”
“Kenyon said that it would be ready by the summer,” said Phillips.
“After they passed it, I was in constant contact with the liquor corporation and they said that all of the work was done — everything was ready, it was just a matter of the politicians signing it into law.”
That was months ago.
“They still haven’t signed it and until I have a licence in my hand I can’t — I don’t want to — go to the expense of doing a bunch of work,” he said.
“I’m doing some stuff but I don’t want to start putting in bathrooms and a bar until I have the licence.”
Phillips tried to get answers from Kenyon, and Premier Dennis Fentie but didn’t receive a reply.
Cathers’ assistant told Phillips that the regulations might not be ready until next year.
Phillips then turned to his MLA, NDP Leader Todd Hardy and Liberal liquor critic Don Inverarity.
“I believe they’re stalling it,” Inverarity said on Thursday.
“All indications were that the regulations were going to be done — it wasn’t a big problem, everybody seemed to think they were OK.”
The Yukon Party might be delaying the ratification of the amendments because of promises made to hotel associations and friends, said Inverarity, mentioning Craig Tuton.
The Yukon Party campaign manager, who also chairs the Whitehorse General Hospital Board and the Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board, owns the Casa Loma Hotel and bar.
The Fentie government could delay enacting the liquor amendments for the remainder of its term.
“They don’t have to implement this,” said Inverarity.
“We passed the act and everything, but until they place an order in council that says this is now the law…
“It could sit on the books forever.”
Inverarity wrote a letter to Cathers, enquiring whether there was “a problem or issue surrounding the new regulations coming into effect.”
“That statement is indicative of a lack of understanding of the Cabinet process,” Cathers replied in a letter dated August 19.
“As you should know, since regulations are currently in the Cabinet process, I cannot provide a specific date as to when new regulations will come into effect.”
The letter did not address the statement made by Kenyon that the new regulations would be in effect this summer.
The News called Cathers, but he refused to comment.
Stephen Kwok is yet another citizen waiting for the go-ahead to start his own bar.
“Right now I’m in no hurry,” said Kwok, who owns the Mad Trapper bowling alley in Riverdale.
“Basically we’re waiting until everything is down on paper.”
Kwok is planning to build the new bar right beside the bowling alley, where he currently operates a video rental shop.
“I hope it’s passed within a month or so. Then I will decide to set up my neighbourhood pub,” he said.
“I have a plan and everything is ready to go.”
It would take about six weeks to go through the process of applying for a liquor licence, said Kwok.
He plans to have his bar in operation a month later.
But first the regulations have to be ratified.
“I can’t see why they would delay it so long,” said Kwok.
“If they have to look after their friends in the summer — summer’s over right now.
“So I don’t think they have any more excuse to delay it anyway.”