Wine lovers rally against cross-border sales ban
Published Tuesday, April 3, 2012 9:57PM EDT
Wine aficionados and wine makers came together in Ottawa on Tuesday in hopes of abolishing a decades-old rule that prevents the beverage from flowing freely across provincial lines.
Supporters of Bill C-311, which would allow wine to be shipped from province to province, argued their case to a finance committee on Parliament Hill.
If passed, the private member's bill would tweak the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act to get rid of an 84-year-old rule that hinders domestic wine shipping.
A 1928 provision of the act prevents a winery in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, for instance, from shipping a case of wine to a customer in Ontario.
Some jurisdictions place volume limits on the amount of wine being shipped and require it to be "on their person," while others outlaw the practice altogether.
Representatives of the Canadian wine industry say the restrictions are outdated and "out of step" with consumer preferences and tourism initiatives.
"Most Canadians don't even know it is illegal. They think it's silly, archaic and it's time that the government started to think in the 21st century," said Shirley-Ann George, who started up the Alliance of Canadian Wine Consumers.
In preventing domestic wine shipping, the ACWC argues that current legislation encourages Canadians to buy foreign wine, therefore hurting Canadian wineries.
Paul-Andre Bosc of Chateau des Charmes, a family-owned Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. winery, said it is frustrating not to be able to ship wine to out-of-province visitors the region relies so heavily on.
"In my opinion, it is none of the business of the province they're from what they're doing when they are visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake and want to buy a couple of cases of wine," he told the finance committee.
Bill C-311, introduced by B.C. Tory MP Dan Albas, has been criticized by representatives of Canada's provincial liquor boards who say they can order wine from other provinces for their customers.
"The impact on our businesses and provincial revenues from allowing direct sales could be substantial," Rowland Dunning, executive director of Canadian Association of Liquor Jurisdictions, warned MPs last week.
Even if the bill passes, the provincial government would still be able to control the amount of wine being shipped. Though trade between provinces is a federal responsibility, liquor sales are regulated by the provinces themselves.
For instance, last year Ontario's liquor board enacted a policy allowing residents to bring up to three litres of spirits, nine litres of wine, and 24.6 litres of beer into the province. The only catch? It has to be for personal consumption.
Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and Yukon have similar rules in place.
There's also concern that Bill C-311 may violate international trade laws by giving Canadian wines a leg-up over foreign brands.
Proponents, however, argue that they're just trying to increase the number of wine options available to Canadians.
Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of Grape Growers of Ontario, told CTV's Power Play that her group supports Bill C-311 but is concerned that it could actually hurt the domestic wine industry by opening the door to more foreign imports.
If cross-border wine shipping rules are changed, she would like to see them only apply to 100-per-cent Canadian wines, although that would likely lead to trade challenges.
Bill C-311 passed committee on Tuesday and will now go back before the House of Commons for debate.
With files from The Canadian Press