Don Martin: Canada stuck with overpriced beer and provincial monopolies
Published Thursday, April 19, 2018 6:12PM EDT
It was never just about the beer -- although, as an occasional cross-border suds shopper, there may be a conflict of personal interest here.
The case of Gerard Comeau was a crucial legal fight aimed at ending protectionism for a myriad of goods and services controlled by provincial monopolies or regulations which impose higher prices on residents than they are charged elsewhere.
But earlier today the Supreme Court ruled the lowest price is not the law across Canada; that we are a nation of 10 internal-production silos constitutionally sheltered from the price competition of external market forces.
It was a unanimous verdict by the nine justices, so it must be on solid legal footing.
It’s also a decision that goes against the views of Canadians in literally every poll ever commissioned although, to be fair, the Supreme Court isn’t a weather vane for the winds of public opinion.
But the sensitivity and selectivity of this decision is odd.
The court suggested this dispute was an incidental, that a major Canadian family feud beyond mere beer talk would’ve merited the court getting more constitutionally lathered up.
And there are signs this is a risk-averse and political-crafted verdict, aimed at avoiding controversy and protecting revenue for governments over the right of Canadians to shop free and buy for less.
It goes against the prevailing view that our Constitution is supposed to be a living document, a set of principles which can be managed to accommodate new realities.
This verdict keeps us in the retail past without due regard for the online present and a globalized cyber marketplace of the future.
The timing is particularly ironic with Alberta oil being weaponized as retaliation against British Columbia over the province’s Trans Mountain pipeline slowdown.
While mine is not a fine legal mind, it stands to reason that if a province has the right to control the sale of beer for price protection purposes, Alberta has the right to cut off oil exports as punishment for bad behavior.
But to the average Canadian level, this much is obvious.
Beer has not been freed. The grapes are still sour. Legal pot will be illegal to shift between provinces. Eggs, dairy products and tobacco will remain a managed supply to keep prices high.
Canada remains a country where unobstructed travel over provincial boundaries remain protected trade borders.
It’s all enough to leave Canadians crying in their overpriced beer.
That’s the Last Word.