July 25, 2013 3:33 pm
Updated: July 25, 2013 5:36 pm

B.C. premier brings wine, raising questions about Ontario’s liquor laws

Watch: Wine is on the agenda at the annual premiers meeting. Alan Carter reports. 

TORONTO –  British Columbia’s premier raised a question on the minds of many Ontarians Thursday: When is Ontario going to change its liquor laws?

B.C. Premier Christy Clark stealthily subverted stringent liquor laws by having each one of her aides bring two bottles of wine to the annual premiers meeting being held in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

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Clark’s six-person team brought two bottles, effectively an entire case, to give to her fellow premiers at this week’s Council of the Federation.

The federal government recently loosened laws restricting interprovincial sales of wines in Canada when it unanimously passed Bill C-311 in June 2012.

The law removed prohibition-era restrictions on moving wine across provincial borders when it’s purchased for personal use. It would also allow local vineyards to ship directly to out-of-province customers.

But the law didn’t change the provinces’ ability to regulate the sale and movement of wine within its borders.

And Ontario has yet to allow out-of-province wines in. Though Ontarians can bring two bottles with them.

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But at least one British Columbian vineyard owner has chosen to subvert the provincial law and sell directly to Ontario customers.

“Toronto should be able to taste my wine in their restaurants, as should Montreal or Halifax or St. John’s or anywhere else. I mean this is asinine that they can’t do this,” Andy Johnston, owner of Averill Creek Vineyard said in a telephone interview. “I think any restaurant in Canada should be able to come to my website or come to my winery and be able to order whatever wines they want for their wine lists. I think that’s a basic freedom.”

Johnston said the LCBO’s pricing of wine puts him at an economic disadvantage.

“If I sell them my wine at my price, which is $24 or $26, then they’re going to be looking at selling it for $60 in the LCBO and of course it’s not going to sell,” he said.

Premier Kathleen Wynne remained hesitant to speak about the issue when asked Thursday at the annual meeting of the country’s premiers, instead saying she wants to work to “expand our markets.”

“What we talked about was how we can continue to work together to grow a) the Canadian wine industry, and to expand our markets,” Wynne said. “There’s a shared interest, obviously, in strengthening the Canadian wine industry.”

So far Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Manitoba have adopted the law.

Ontarians looking for out-of-province wine can take advantage of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s (LCBO) Private Ordering program – but that comes with a hefty markup.

As part of the program, the LCBO will import products not available in stores but requires a minimum order of one case (12 bottles), requires a 25 per cent deposit and the cost per bottle can be “approximately three to four times higher than the retail price in the country of origin.” The higher prices are due to LCBO mark up, freight, taxes and duty.

- With files from Alan Carter

© Shaw Media, 2013

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