National Column: Premiers uncork historic wine deal in Whitehorse

Wynne, Clark and Couillard remove major trade barrier

by Robert Benzie

Ontario consumers will finally have unfettered access to British Columbia wine under a historic deal inked by premiers Kathleen Wynne and Christy Clark.

The two leaders, along with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, uncorked the anti-protectionist tripartite agreement Friday.

“It doesn’t make sense to people in Ontario – or people in B.C. – that they can’t access each other’s wine,” Wynne said at the Council of the Federation (COF) meeting.

“At my first COF meeting in Niagara (three years ago), Christy brought me a bottle of wine so we’ve been working on this,” the Ontario premier said, adding, almost apologetically, that the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) will oversee the program.

“LCBO will be launching their e-commerce site, which will mean people can go on a site, they can order B.C. wine and have it delivered by Canada Post to their home or they can pick it up at the LCBO,” she said.

“The reality is that over the years there have been different regulations put in place and it is a bit of a labyrinth so … we are trying to make it more rational.”

Wynne said opening up trade is part of her liberalization of beer and wine sales in Ontario.

There will be 150 supermarkets selling six-packs of cider and beer by next May and 70 grocery stores will begin expanded wine sales this fall.

“I’m really pleased that people will have more choice. For me, it’s about people having the choice, people having access to the industry across the country,” she said.

The accord is a huge win for Clark, who is up for re-election next May.

“This is good news for Canadians who love B.C. wine, for B.C. wineries and the 10,000 British Columbians whose jobs depend on a strong and growing wine industry,” said the B.C. premier.

“It’s a good example of what Canada’s three largest provinces can achieve when we work together,” she said, singling out Wynne for praise.

“Changing liquor laws in Ontario is not an easy task. It’s a byzantine system that’s grown up over the years and I don’t envy Premier Wynne having to take it on, but I certainly do admire the tenacity she’s brought to it.”

In 2013, B.C. officials smuggled a case of Okanagan Valley chardonnay and pinot noir to the premiers’ conference in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., the heart of Ontario wine country, to highlight the absurdity of Canadian trade barriers.

Even though Ottawa loosened interprovincial wine rules in 2012, it has remained illegal for Ontarians to buy B.C. wines in bulk and have them shipped from vineyards.

Wines from Niagara and Prince Edward County and other Ontario appellations are available to B.C. consumers, but the government-owned LCBO did not want to lose revenue and was a roadblock to greater access.

Clark, who has dramatically opened up B.C. liquor laws in recent years, conceded that having government monopolies in Ontario and Quebec as part of the new arrangement is imperfect.

“We can say we have not freed the grapes completely, but they are freer,” she stressed, prompting Couillard to quip: “We’ve unshackled them.”

The Quebec premier, who is looking at revamping alcohol laws there, signed onto the accord because it should help his province’s nascent wine industry to grow.

“Improved online ordering represents a great opportunity to ensure wine products from Quebec get greater access to Canadian markets,” said Couillard, whose LCBO-style SociÈtÈ des alcools du QuÈbec will run its e-commerce program.

“We do this in the spirit of Canadian free trade. This agreement is open to any other wine-producing province that would like to join. So I know that Nova Scotia, in particular, is quite interested.”

Along with the wine deal, the 13 provincial and territorial leaders gathered in Whitehorse for their annual summer convention.

There, they finally concluded a broader “agreement on internal trade” that should expand labour mobility in Canada.


Copyright 2016
Torstar Syndication Services

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