Forget that out-of-province beer: On booze and most other things, new interprovincial trade deal falls short

Canadians hoping for a loosening of liquor laws will be sorely disappointed by a new interprovincial agreement which does little to change restrictions.
Canadians hoping for a loosening of liquor laws will be sorely disappointed by a new interprovincial agreement which does little to change restrictions. Dave Martin/Associated Press

Canadians hoping that interprovincial trade deal brokered by Ottawa would lift or reduce restrictions on booze and dairy products from other provinces will be sorely disappointed.

The Canadian Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) unveiled Friday by the federal and provincial governments in Toronto is “the longest suicide note in history,” Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, told Global News.

READ MORE: Cross-border beer import ruling sparks debate on interprovincial trade

In other words, it’s where the federal government’s ambitions to liberalize internal trade went to die.

The agreement doesn’t affect provincial supply management of dairy, eggs and poultry products. And when it comes to alcoholic beverages and fish products, it merely establishes working groups that will have to find ways to liberalize trade at a future date.

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“This is disappointing,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Dalhousie University who studies food distribution, security and safety, noting that the deal appears to “create processes” rather than lift trade restrictions.

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The CFTA does reduce some barriers to companies’ ability to compete for provincial government contracts, noted Crowley. Any such contract worth more than $25,000 will now be open to bids from businesses from across the country, unless specific exemptions apply.

Another important step the deal takes is to increase fines from $5 million to $10 million for provinces that break the rules, noted Crowley.

The CFTA also allows some professionals with Canadian credentials to work in different parts of the country, potentially opening up more job opportunities to carpenters, welders and plumbers, among others.

Still, the list of items exempted from trade liberalization takes up almost a third of the 335-page document.

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Here are a few highlights about what the agreement doesn’t change:

Alcoholic beverages

Nothing will change when the CFTA comes into effect on July 1, Canada’s 150th birthday. The task of finding ways to free Canada’s beer, wine and liquor from provincial restrictions falls to an Alcoholic Beverages Working Group that will have to submit recommendations within a year.

READ MORE: Changes to Liquors Act allows beer and spirits to cross borders

Financial services

Here, too, the agreement defers to further negotiations to be concluded within two to three years.

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Liberalization falls to — you guessed it — another working group.

Dairy, eggs and poultry products

The CFTA does not affect provincial supply management of products like dairy, eggs and poultry products.

It was “an absolute missed opportunity by the federal government,” said Charlebois of Dalhousie University.

It means that Canadians will continue to be restrained in their ability to access products like cheese, beer and wine from other provinces, especially those like craft and artisanal goods, produced by smaller companies, Charlebois said.

Trade liberalization in the food sector might have also helped reduce food costs by introducing greater variety and competition, he added.

READ MORE: 5 ways trade barriers are harming Canada’s economy

A host of bizarre restrictions remains

The list of CFTA exemptions also includes a variety of very specific, and sometime arcane, provincial provisions. For example:

  • In Ontario the “taking of bullfrogs for sale or barter” is only for residents.
  • Ontario also “reserves the right to restrict the category of persons eligible to issue marriage licences, including on the basis of residence.”
  • In Quebec, meanwhile, “anyone seeking a permit to act as a funeral director funeral director must have resided in the province for at least 12 months prior to submitting the request.”
  • Nova Scotia reserves the right to confer a fur harvesters’ licence to its residents only.
  • And Manitoba may continue to afford preferential treatment to its residents “in the allocation, sale and lease of cottage lots.”

READ MORE: Federal, provincial ministers meet to discuss interprovincial trade barriers