Liberals vote down 'free-the-beer' motion
Published Wednesday, June 15, 2016 12:24PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 15, 2016 4:36PM EDT
OTTAWA - Liberal MPs yesterday voted down an opposition motion calling on the government to ask the Supreme Court whether Canadians have a right to unfettered trade across provincial lines.
Branded as part of a Conservative MP's bid to "free the beer," the motion would have had the government ask the country's top court to hear the case of Gerard Comeau, a New Brunswick man who stocked up on beer in Quebec to take back to his home province. A New Brunswick court in April dismissed the charges against Comeau for having more than the allowed limit for alcohol not purchased in the province. The Liberal government in New Brunswick is appealing the decision.
Conservative MP Dan Albas, who has also sponsored private member's bills to remove federal laws limiting beer and wine sales between provinces, wants the federal government to go straight to the Supreme Court instead of waiting for the case to make its way through an appeals court.
Because each province sets its own regulations around alcohol sales, the federal government was thought to be limited in what it can do. But the Comeau decision argued the Constitution gives Canadians the right to a free flow of goods within the country, and a Senate committee report released Tuesday said the Constitution gives the federal government the ability to move unilaterally on internal trade.
Albas's motion also called on the House to recognize it's a constitutional right for Canadians to trade with each other and to reaffirm this was the wish of the Fathers of Confederation.
Albas says the government keeps pointing to provincial trade negotiations, but that the agreement on internal trade won't cover alcohol.
"Every time we talked about the importance of opening up trade, they talked about needing to support provincial liquor monopolies rather than consumers. So from that perspective it's disappointing," he said in an interview with CTV News. "However, the bright spot was both the New Democratic Party as well as the Greens voted in support of this."
Speaking in the House on Tuesday, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said he met with his provincial and territorial counterparts the day before and that he's "actively engaged" in the negotiations to modernize the agreement on internal trade.
Bains and Albas agree the agreement on internal trade is outdated and needs updating, a sentiment echoed in the Senate committee report released Tuesday. But the suggestion to go straight to the Supreme Court, Bains said, is misguided.
"It only threatens to undermine the work we are doing with the provincial and territorial partners at the negotiation table," he said.
"We are not going to pit one region against the other or work against them. We are going to work together with a common objective and goal to deal with this issue head on."
Albas pointed to comments by Ontario Minister of Economic Development Brad Duguid, who told iPolitics.ca last March that he didn't expect the new agreement to cover culture or the dairy industry. Duguid also said alcohol and financial services were too complex and would take more time to negotiate than the provinces had left as they faced a March, 2016 deadline - which has now passed with no agreement.
In an interview with CTV News, Bains said he wants a comprehensive agreement, and that beer and wine is one of the issues being discussed. While he was reluctant to set a deadline for the provinces to reach a new agreement, Bains said the Senate committee's July 1, 2017 target - chosen because the country will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation - is a great date.
Still, "I want to do it sooner than that if possible," he said.
The NDP and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May voted along with Conservative MPs in support of the bill. The Liberal majority and the Bloc voted against it.