July 5, 2016 – Kelowna, BC – Congratulations to Shirley-Ann George on winning the 2016 Canadian Wine Champion award! If there has ever been a champion for open borders to Canadian wines, it is Shirley-Ann.
FreeMyGrapes and the Alliance of Canadian Wine Consumers was born from a personal frustration during a 2009 visit to the Okanagan. Denied membership in a BC winery’s club because she was an Ontario resident, Shirley-Ann decided it was nonsense and things had to change.
In her working career, Shirley-Ann had fought interprovincial trade barriers. She knew it would be tough to rattle the cage of provincial liquor boards and their political masters, jealously protecting their wine selling fiefdoms and juicy financial cash flows.
On the other hand, an egregious barrier needed addressing: time to bring the 21st century to Canada’s wine business and let Canadian consumers get more Canadian wine in a 21st century manner. And so, the Alliance of Canadian Wine Consumers and its website, freemygrapes.ca, was born.
This new consumer activism was a wake-up call for politicians and media. Suddenly, the stuffy arcane subject of trade barriers was sexy. “What do you mean I can’t take a bottle of wine to another province – I could go to jail for that? A 1928 federal law could make me a criminal for carrying a bottle of wine from Quebec to Ontario? Is this for real? Aren’t we one country and one market? C’mon, you’re kidding – right?” Alas Virginia, like Santa Claus, it was real.
We know the outcomes of the campaign. Through a June 2012 federal amendment to the 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, interprovincial importation of wine for personal use became legal and “FreeMyGrapes” had realized step one of its goal.
But the campaign had to continue to get provinces to open their borders to “direct-to-consumer” wine sales. To date, BC, Manitoba and NS allow the direct shipping of wine to consumers for personal use. Also, all Canadian provinces have made changes to permit some wine to be carried “on one’s person” across borders (no shipping though).
One could argue that some provinces have only tinkered with their rules, yet the changes are tangible in Canada’s regimented liquor system. Progress may be slow but it is forward.
Now, the beer and spirits industries are trying to mirror what the wine industry and FreeMyGrapes achieved. A New Brunswick case on beer has the promise to further shake up the system and bring constitutional scrutiny to these barriers.
So, hearty congratulations to Shirley-Ann George on this recognition – her work, dedication, doggedness and personal commitment deserve praise. The next time you raise a glass of good Canadian wine, offer a toast to Shirley-Ann and what she did. We are all the better for it.