Ont., B.C., Que. agree to make interprovincial wine purchases easier
Canadian grapes are a little bit freer after the premiers of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia committed to what they called “full and easy” online purchasing of wine within their three provinces. But one MP says the new agreement doesn’t go far enough.
After a premiers meeting in Whitehorse on Friday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said that, “within a number of days, so very soon, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario … is going to be launching an e-commerce site that will allow people in Ontario to buy wine from Quebec and British Columbia directly.”
Wynne said she’s been working on the change since B.C. Premier Christy Clark brought her a bottle of Osoyoos wine in 2013, to highlight what Clark called “byzantine” regulations preventing Ontarians from online ordering from B.C.’s 300+ wineries.
Clark thanked Wynne for her work.
“To change liquor laws in Ontario is not an easy task,” she said. “It’s a byzantine system that’s grown up over the years and I don’t envy Premier Wynne having to take it on, but I certainly do admire the tenacity she’s brought to it.”
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called it “great news for our producers and consumers” and said it was done in the “spirit of free trade.”
Couillard was asked why consumers still won’t be able to order wine online directly from producers. He said that the mandate of the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) is being reviewed and “we are definitely moving in that direction” but that he didn’t want to wait “two or three years” to start opening up interprovincial wine sales.
He said other provinces are welcome to join the program too, adding that Nova Scotia seems “quite interested.”
All three premiers said the online ordering is an example of “freer trade,” although Clark suggested it’s only a partial win. “We have not freed the grapes completely, but they are freer,” she said.
Conservative MP Dan Albas, who put forward the failed “free the beer” motion in Parliament last month, commended Clark for pushing her counterparts to open up interprovincial trade, but said he is disappointed by Friday’s announcement.
“It’s progress but disappointing,” said the MP who represents the winery-laden riding of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola.
“It does not support the true free trade of wine,” he added.
Albas said that the LCBO in Ontario recently began allowing consumers to order cases of wine from B.C. vintners, but the process is slow, inconvenient and expensive.
Even if the new e-commerce site is an improvement, Albas said “Conservatives contend it’s a Canadian right to be able to trade with other Canadians.”
Albas said consumers in any province should be allowed to contact wineries and have the product delivered to their houses without a provincial middleman like the LCBO or SAQ.
One of the main benefits, in his view, is the potential for Canadian producers to use the domestic markets to “scale up” to sizes that would make them competitive internationally.
“We have amazing quality of wines,” Albas said. “But our industry, compared to most mature wine-producing countries, is extremely small in comparison.” He said seven of 10 bottles currently sold in Canada are imported.
Albas said it “drives Canadians crazy” that, at a time when Canada is pushing for free trade with other countries, they don’t have free trade with each other.
Premier Clark made a similar point. “If we can’t be free traders amongst us, consumers can’t win, taxpayers can’t win and our businesses and our industries can’t win,” she said.
Earlier at the press conference, Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski also praised free trade.
“I’m really concerned about the protectionist messages that we’re hearing from south of the border, from the United States, from both presidential candidates,” he said.
“Now more than ever we need to really work hard to ensure we’re creating the best opportunity for freer trade in our country,” Pasloski added.
He said free trade grows the economy, “provides better opportunities to businesses and the benefit to consumers is always keeping prices competitive or lower.”