Alberta cabinet minister lays out what he believes is needed to resolve wine dispute with B.C.

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Alberta cabinet minister lays out what he believes could resolve wine dispute with B.C.
The Alberta government says it is willing to end its B.C. “wine war,” but only if British Columbia makes some changes. Now, both provinces are pouring over how to get a fair deal. Morgan Black reports – Feb 20, 2024

Alberta craft brewers and distillers have become the latest point of contention in the province’s wine war with British Columbia.

In an interview with Global News on Tuesday, Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction Minister Dale Nally said the province would agree to direct-to-consumer shipping if there was a way for Alberta to collect the tax revenue associated with it, and if B.C. opened its market to Alberta craft brewers and distillers.

“We actually have craft brewers and craft distillers that can’t access the B.C. market, so clearly there’s not an equitable trade relationship here,” Nally said.

“We want to be a good neighbour, and part of that is being a fair and equitable trade partner.”

Nally said his ministry has been in talks with the B.C. government about the issue.

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Last month, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, which regulates the sale of liquor in the province, sent a letter to wineries in B.C. It said the agency had been investigating the practice of consumers in Alberta ordering wine directly from B.C. wineries instead of buying it in Alberta stores.

Nally said an AGLC audit uncovered 106 wineries that were shipping to Alberta this way.

Click to play video: 'Alberta wine clubs, retailers feeling short-poured over B.C. wine war'
Alberta wine clubs, retailers feeling short-poured over B.C. wine war

At the time, AGLC said that direct-to-consumer shipping has never been allowed in Alberta’s liquor model, and in order to legally sell directly to Alberta consumers, an appropriate Alberta liquor licence is required.

“Suppliers from other provinces that offer direct-to-consumer shipping are in contravention of provincial legislation,” AGLC said in a statement to Global News.

“They are bypassing Alberta’s private liquor retailers and liquor agencies and are impacting the dollars that support projects and services Albertans rely on.”

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“We’ve indicated to B.C. that while everyone has to pay their taxes, we’re willing to put a process in place that will allow for direct-to-consumer shipments, as long as the tax is collected,” Nally said. “But if we’re going to do that, we want something in return: we want access to B.C. markets for Alberta craft brewers and distillers.

“The ball’s in their court. We’re willing to work with them … Opening that market would mean more investment and jobs in Alberta.”

Nally said he would like to see Alberta craft brewers and distillers have access to sell their products in private beer stores in B.C. along with provincial government-run liquor stores.

“Those are the kinds of issues that my staff are currently right now exploring with staff in Alberta,” said Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general. “We want to make sure that we are standing up for our wine industry in our province. Our wineries are facing a difficult time right now. So for them, direct delivery is very important.”

“I want to ensure that we have agreements in place that are fair to both our wine industry, spirits and beer industry and that’s fair to Alberta,” Farnworth continued. “We want to find a way to resolve this dispute. That’s why my staff has engaged with Alberta and I have spoke with the minister.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. government responds to Alberta threats over wine sales'
B.C. government responds to Alberta threats over wine sales

Farnworth said part of the discussion now also revolves around Alberta producers who send their products to B.C. via the direct-to-consumer route.

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“It’s slightly challenging in the sense that they don’t want direct delivery from B.C. wineries into Alberta, but what seemed to be fine was to continue to allow direct delivery of Alberta products that are not allowed into B.C. You can’t have it both ways.”

“As it stands right now, our breweries have a better chance of getting their product into the U.S. or overseas than any other province, B.C. included,” said Blair Berdusco, executive director of the Alberta Small Brewers Association. “Access to another market is top of mind for a lot of local brewers.”

Berdusco cited several barriers for Alberta brewers trying to access the B.C. market.

“You have to get a third-party agent involved in order to sell your goods in B.C. There are limits to what you can send. So, those barriers, along with a few others, make it really challenging, especially for a small brewer from Alberta.”

“The issue is not that they no longer have access to our market, it’s that they no longer have access to our market tax-free,” Nally said. “Alberta producers are paying taxes but we have tax-exempt status for B.C. wineries. We just can’t allow that.”

Nally said he hopes both sides can come to a resolution soon.

–with files from Global News’ Tracy Nagai and The Canadian Press


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