Byzantine liquor laws persist in Nova Scotia
Earlier this week, a plebiscite in a rural corner of Nova Scotia laid bare the province’s particularly bizarre relationship with alcohol.
Nova Scotia may have a reputation for rum-running and hard drinking, but its rules around liquor sales reflect an unusually uptight attitude firmly rooted in the Prohibition era.
Residents of two small districts inside the municipality of West Hants voted Tuesday to allow the sale and production of liquor, eliminating the community’s dry status — an unusual ritual that has taken place across the province for many decades.
Of the 297 people who voted in the community northwest of Halifax, 91 per cent said yes to going wet, according to results released Wednesday.
Nova Scotia is the only province that restricts where liquor can be sold or produced through provincial legislation. Other provinces have long relied on municipal zoning or bylaws to impose restrictions.
As a result, Nova Scotia has a haphazard smattering of 105 dry communities, most of them rural and unaware of their status. Many are so small they wouldn’t have enough people to support a drinking establishment or liquor store.
John MacDonald, executive director of the alcohol, gaming, fuel and tobacco division of Service Nova Scotia, said the system is confusing and arcane.
“We’re different in this area,’’ he said. “A lot of this goes back to Prohibition and what happened after Prohibition ... But as of today, we’re the only province that operates in this manner.’’
Incredibly, the province doesn’t have a list of communities that are considered dry. An old map in a government office in Halifax is supposed to show which ones are still locked in Prohibition, but the names are so faded that the document is of little use.
“It’s got to be at least 30 or 40 years old,’’ MacDonald said with a chuckle. “You can’t see the electoral boundaries on it.’’
When an application is made for a rural liquor licence, research is often required to determine if the area is still dry because the electoral boundaries have been redrawn many times over the years.
To make matters more confusing, there’s a different list of officially dry communities when it comes to the operation of liquor stores, which is overseen by the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission.