'Free the beer': Liberals working 'intensely' but won't seek top court's advice
OTTAWA -- Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains is dismissing a Conservative MP's suggestion to ask the Supreme Court to assess the constitutionality of cross-border limits for alcohol.
Bains says the Liberal government is working "intensely" to modernize the agreement on internal trade and that he's been meeting with his provincial counterparts on a range of trade issues, including alcohol.
"I very much support the free-flow of alcohol from one jurisdiction to another, particularly amongst provinces and territories," Bains told reporters in Ottawa. "We understand the importance of this issue in the context, again, of making sure that businesses have the opportunity to grow."
But he says protectionism is getting in the way of some provinces removing their trade barriers.
"There's a mentality to protect your own jurisdiction," Bains said. "So the idea is there's the historical context, there's a revenue issue, there's a financial impact, but the bottom line is we understand if we don't eliminate these barriers, if we don't harmonize regulations, we're putting ourselves at a disadvantage, particularly as we move forward with other international trade agreements."
Conservative interprovincial trade critic Dan Albas called Monday morning for the Liberals to ask the country's top court to test whether provincial limits on cross-border alcohol sales are constitutional.
Albas, the Okanagan MP whose private member's bill lifted federal regulations against interprovincial wine sales, says a recent New Brunswick case should be elevated to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Gerard Comeau was charged for buying beer in Quebec and taking it home with him to Tracadie, N.B., but the judge found that the law against cross-border beer purchasing was unconstitutional. The New Brunswick government is appealing that decision, which Albas would like to see go straight to the country’s top court.
"This statement of provincial protectionism needs to come to an end," Albas said in Ottawa Monday morning.
"This is not only important in having the potential to free the beer for Canadians, but more importantly has the potential to open our internal economy for Canadian producers. People want to buy Canadian and it should not be easier for a winery in B.C. to sell directly to Asia than to Ontario, as is the case today."
Albas says the federal government should ask the court for constitutional clarification.
While Albas' bill ended federal regulations against cross-border wine sales in 2012, and the then-Conservative government further lifted the limits on craft beer and spirits, he says only three provinces have responded with their own reduced regulations.
"Many provinces remain stuck in the dark ages of protectionism using regulatory red tape to create trade barriers," he said.
Comeau made beer runs to Quebec two or three times a year and was caught in a police sting in 2012. He was fined $292 and charged with illegally importing alcohol for taking 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor from Quebec to New Brunswick.
The New Brunswick Liqour Control Act prohibits residents from possessing more than 12 pints of beer purchased from outside the province.
Lower alcohol taxes in Quebec mean its prices are substantially lower than those in neighbouring provinces. For example, a case of 24 Budweiser or Molson Canadian beers sells for $42.65 in New Brunswick, and $29.99 in Quebec.
With files from CTVNews.ca's Josh Elliott