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Tobacco retail fees to be reviewed following heated council discussion

A controversial decision on tobacco sales will be re-visited by the City of Lloydminster.

Back in June of 2016, Lloydminster’s previous city council approved a new set of rules in the business license bylaw which would directly impact tobacco retailers in the Border City. The rules raised the prices on business licenses for retailers selling tobacco by $750, with a further charge of $350 for the sale of flavoured tobacco products.

A new internal grant was also planned as part of the added fees, which was aimed at the reduction of tobacco use in Lloydminster. Prior to the passing of the bylaw, the municipal administration had put out a call for feedback from the public, which included a statement on the motivations behind the fees.

“It has become more apparent that as a society, that there is a growing concern relating to the negative health impacts of tobacco,” read the statement from the City, at the time.

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“In order to encourage a tobacco-free society and in the support of the movement in which the Tobacco Coalition strives for, we will be imposing an additional fee for tobacco retailers. It is proposed that this additional fee be used to support a new internal grant, the Lloydminster Tobacco Reduction Grant (LTRG).”

The call for feedback received a total of nine responses, received by the municipal administration. Three of the respondents were not in favour of the changes, with six writing in support of the move.

At the time of the bylaw’s passing, the changes had a mixed reception across the city, along with opposition in the council chamber from Councillor Ken Baker.

During Monday’s meeting of city council, that opposition came surging back to the chamber.

Council had been discussing the formation of rules for the LTRG grants, with around $24,900 collected in funds to date. Under the policy put forward from administration, a review committee of three primary members and two alternate members, all from City staff, would decide where grants would go.

The draft description of the committee.

However, Councillor Ken Baker began to question the legality of the raised tobacco fees, stating that the City’s lawyer had said the municipal government was “on thin ice”.

“We’re dealing in an area that is controlled by the federal and provincial governments,” said Baker, after the meeting.

“It’s under their jurisdiction, they allow tobacco sales, and I was concerned that we were doing something we shouldn’t be doing, and I’m still concerned about that. I guess we’ll find out when we get a written letter.”

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Baker also said it wasn’t a question of smoking when it came to his opposition to the bylaw.

“I don’t smoke, but it’s a question of should we be in the business of taxing cigarettes, should we be in the business of taxing liquor, and on and on the story goes,” said Baker.

“That scenario is being used, and I think it should be reviewed. City council can go back, leave it the way it is, amend it, or eliminate it. We have to get some conclusion on this item.”

After Baker’s point was brought up, heavy discussion ensued amongst the councillors. During the discussion, Councillor Jonathan Torresan raised the idea of “giving back” the gathered funds. After the meeting, he said his idea was theoretical, and he had wanted to gauge the reaction of the room. He also indicated he did not favour the added fees.

“I was not on council at the time, but I wasn’t exactly in favour of it, because I felt as though we were potentially overstepping our jurisdictional boundaries,” said Torresan.

“We’ve had a legal review, that was mentioned, and they said we were not overstepping those boundaries, but I still disagree in principle in adding additional business licenses for specific businesses.”

However, the item originally up for discussion on Monday was the policy springing from the bylaw, not the bylaw itself.

“We’re talking about what to do with the funds now that the bylaw exists,” said Torresan.

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“We already have the money, so I don’t have a problem with distributing it accordingly based on the general principle that we accepted the money on.”

The new council has not had a discussion on the bylaw. The motion they passed on Monday directed administration to review the licensing fees within the bylaw, as well as giving first reading to the structure handing out the grants.

Council will continue to examine the matter as it returns to the agenda.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story contained an error on the description of the LTRG committee. This error has since been corrected.

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