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.

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