Okanagan MP gains support for inter-provincial booze bill

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Support is brewing for an Okanagan MP’s private member’s bill that offers a workaround to inter-provincial trade barriers of direct-to-consumer alcohol sales. Shelby Thom reports. – Jan 20, 2021

Like many producers of B.C. wine, beer and spirits, online sales at Lightning Rock Winery in Summerland, B.C., have shot through the roof since the pandemic.

The winery, however, can’t legally ship its products directly to prospective customers in some provinces like Ontario and Quebec.

“In Canada, it’s easier to ship wine to London, England, than it is to London, Ont.,” said winery owner Ron Kubek, who is also the president of the Summerland Chamber of Commerce.

Read more: B.C.-Alberta trade worth $30B annually, with economies most intertwined in Canada: report

That’s because of inter-provincial trade barriers, which result in Canadians with more access to U.S. and European products than those bottled in their own country.

Only four provinces allow direct-to-consumer alcohol shipments into their jurisdictions: B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

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“Some provinces have eliminated personal importation limits on alcohol, some provinces have not, so really there is a patchwork of rules right now across Canada,” said Jasmin Guénette, vice-president of national affairs with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

“So ensuring that businesses in all provinces can have access to the entire Canadian market is important.”

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Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola Conservative MP Dan Albas hopes to change that by drafting a private member’s bill that would offer a red-tape workaround.

“It would create a national regime where Canada Post would be able to send from one province to another,” Albas told Global News on Wednesday.

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“So it would effectively bypass provincial liquor monopolies and their outdated rules.”

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The plan, which Albas calls “buy, ship and sip,” would bypass provincial restrictions to offer beer buffs and wine connoisseurs more choice and unlock new markets for producers, particularly smaller operations.

The B.C. MP said provincially owned alcohol distributors, such as Ontario’s LCBO, amount to monopolies that choke off variety.

Read more: New federal rules put end to mail order from one small N.S. business

The initiative is gaining support from small alcohol producers like Ron Kubek, who initiated a House of Commons e-petition in favour of the bill.

“People like coming to the Okanagan to visit, the wineries, to go to the cideries, to check out the different breweries. But when they go home , they go back to eastern Canada, they go to the Prairies, they want to be able to order it, and they can’t legally order alcohol because of the barriers put up in the provinces,” he said.

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The CFIB said expanding domestic markets is vital to the survival of its members.

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“Inter-provincial trade can play an important role in the economic recovery of our country following the pandemic,” Guénette said.

But with the bill coming from an opposition member, combined with the prospect of a federal election and pandemic uncertainty, it may be a difficult plan to uncork.

-With files from The Canadian Press 

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