Lethbridge brewery owner questions fairness of inter-provincial trade

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Breweries across Alberta are in limbo as the provincial government appeals a court ruling it says harms its craft beer industry. Kyle Benning spoke with one Lethbridge beer producer who is hopping mad that the playing field isn't even – Jul 30, 2018

Kelti Baird said red tape is keeping her from sending her Ionic Irish Red Ale outside of Alberta’s borders.

One of the managing owners of Theoretically Brewing was born and raised in Kelowna, and wished her friends and family in her hometown could sip some of her beer.

But she has found the Rocky Mounties to be like a brick wall, stopping her from entering B.C.

“I would love to sell my beer back home to some of the restaurants that that I used to frequent,” Baird said. “It’s just impossible for me to do so with the trade barriers that those provinces have.”

“Getting across that border, getting into that market is so restrictive that it would cost us tens of thousands of dollars to list products in B.C. and Ontario — which just means that the market in Canada between the provinces isn’t fair.”

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READ MORE: Alberta files notice of appeal after June ruling found it discriminated against out-of-province beer

In an e-mail to Global News, British Columbia’s Ministry of the Attorney General stated any manufacturer looking to sell their product in the province must have it registered with the Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB).

Once it is registered, it can be purchased wholesale by B.C.’s provincially-run liquor stores or by private liquor stores.

The e-mail went on to say there is no cost to apply for product registration or to list with the LDB, and the criteria for application isn’t changed based on where the product comes from.

In an email, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) said the commission is responsible for administering the Liquor Licence Act in that province. The act, along with the regulations made under them, establish the “licensing and regulatory regime” around most aspects of sale and service of alcohol in Ontario.

It went on to say any manufacturer who wants to sell products in Ontario’s government liquor stores would need to list with the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

As a small brewer, Theoretically Brewing was collecting the tax rebate set up by Alberta two years ago.

But following a court case that found the rebate to be unconstitutional, that source of revenue is up in the air.

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The ruling granted Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewing and Saskatoon’s Great Western Brewing $2.1 million, with Alberta’s government also being forced to rewrite its beer policy before 2019.

The government has filed a notice of appeal, arguing the judge may have, among other things, made “palpable and overriding errors of fact” with regard to markup payments and incidences.

READ MORE: Alberta loses beer battle with Steam Whistle, Great Western breweries

Economic Development Lethbridge said it doesn’t expect breweries to be hit hard because the government has reaffirmed its position to protect beer manufacturers one way or another.

“I think it’s less about the incentives, necessarily, as long as the government can create an overall competitive playing field so that we can compete against those other provinces,” CEO Trevor Lewington said.

Both Lewington and Baird agree local breweries need to capitalize on beer drinkers living in their cities and neighbourhoods in order to keep their bottom lines out of the red.

Baird said her employees will remain on payroll even if the rebate is taken away.

WATCH: Global News’ coverage of the province’s craft beer policy

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However, 2016 statistics from the Conference Board of Canada show there are 13,482 Albertans employed by the beer industry.

Of those, more than 8,600 — or 64 per cent — were employed from local beer activity, showing how vital an industry the craft beer market is across the province.

The Alberta Small Brewers Association (ASBA) said the industry has grown more than five-fold in the five years since it was established.

But Baird still finds it frustrating that Canadians outside of Alberta won’t be able to enjoy the ales, lagers and stouts southern Alberta has to offer.

“It is very disappointing that we can’t cross borders within Canada. It is actually legally easier for us to export to Montana, Idaho and Washington State than it is to get into B.C. and Ontario — and that’s just plain wrong.”

— With files from Phil Heidenreich, 

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