Oh my – what a tangled wine web we continue to weave. The interprovincial wine trade mess that we all hoped was en route to being finally brought into the 21st century through federal reforms in June 2012 to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA), is still with us.
To recap, after IILA passed (unanimously in the House of Commons and Senate), British Columbia and Manitoba quickly followed suit, respecting the intent and direction of the federal law and amended their respective rules to allow the direct importation of wine for personal usage. Nova Scotia also made changes in law to allow the same, but we are still awaiting the regulations that will make this effective.
Nearly two years later, two recent developments clearly illustrate that wine lovers have a long way to go in being able to get their favourite Canadian wine delivered direct to their door. Alberta, supposedly one of strongest “free traders” in Canadian Confederation, changed its rules – that had previously allowed for personal importation – to now prohibit the same.
And most recently, Newfoundland laid charges against FedEx for shipping “contraband liquor” (BC wine) into the province. The case will next be heard in provincial court at the end of June.
These developments indicate just how far Canada has yet to go to get beyond the restrict/control/stifle mentality over Canadian wine. Provincial liquor monopolies are still seen as sacred and paramount to common sense and increased trade within Canada. Yet, BC and Manitoba have had open borders for Canadian wine for nigh on two years and the sky has not fallen.
The federal government, through Industry Minister James Moore, recently announced that it is (once again), going to attempt to tackle interprovincial trade barriers. Good I say, but with reluctance, I also add “good luck”. Canadian provinces/territories (and sometimes local governments too), just seem incapable of seeing past their parochial nose and looking at the collective upside in so many sectors of the economy. Perhaps, as Mark Hicken, a BC lawyer specializing in wine law has said, the federal government needs to get tough and use its overriding interprovincial trade powers to bring some sense to the situation, perhaps mandating a level of personal exemption through a further amendment to the IILA.
It would have been useful for the parties vying for the votes of Ontarians in the current election campaign to say if they are willing to open Ontario’s borders. Who knows which party will emerge victorious on June 12th, but if it Premier Wynne were to be re-elected, wouldn’t it be a “Wynne-Win” or “Hudak-Hallelujah” or a “Horvath-Hurrah” for the new Premier to take a progressive step on direct wine delivery? And if Mr. Jim Prentice should become Premier of Alberta, perhaps he too will bring his federal experience and policy background to bear, and get Alberta to join the 21st century.
In short, what recent developments show is that Canadian grapes are still not free and that there remains much to do to bring our wine trade system up to date. Some 25 years ago, when I lived in Australia, my colleagues of the time could not believe the kind of restrictive system we had in Canada on so many forms of internal trade. While the Canadian wine industry was in its infancy then, it is not now and yet those barriers, for the most part, are still there. Our current system remains outdated, frustrating and quite frankly, embarrassing – it’s time to practice domestically what we preach on the international trade stage. Free trade indeed.