B.C. challenges Alberta wine ban under free trade rules

The B.C. government is challenging Alberta’s ban on B.C. wines through the Canadian Free Trade Agreement's dispute settlement process. But Alberta says its decision is "a reasonable response to an unreasonable attack on the Canadian economy."

Province says Alberta's boycott violates its obligations under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement

B.C.'s dispute with Alberta will be the first to be formally discussed under new Canadian Free Trade Agreement rules, according to a news release from the provincial government. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

The B.C. government is challenging Alberta's ban on B.C. wines through the Canadian Free Trade Agreement's (CFTA) dispute settlement process.

According to a release, the province has notified the Alberta government that it is formally requesting consultations under the CFTA regarding Alberta's embargo on the sale of B.C. wine. 

"Alberta's actions threaten the livelihood of the families that have worked so hard to build B.C.'s world-class wine industry," Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston said in the release.

"These actions are inconsistent with Alberta's obligations under the CFTA, and we will protect our reputation and the interests of British Columbians."

At a press conference on Monday afternoon, Ralston said that Alberta's ban is a "clear violation" of the CFTA.

"It's our view that this dispute engages questions that should be considered by every jurisdiction in the federation," he said. "We're standing up for the B.C. wine business, B.C. industry, B.C. businesses and B.C. jobs."

Ralston said the process allows for 120 days of consultation. If no decision is made, the matter then goes to a tribunal.

"I think that what's good about this process is it's a process of dialogue, it's a process of engagement in discussion and consultation. So I'm optimistic that there will be fruitful discussion and there may be a resolution," he said.

Alberta responds

In a statement, Alberta's Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Deron Bilous, said his province's response is "a reasonable response to an unreasonable attack on the Canadian economy." 

"The government of British Columbia is taking direct aim at the jobs and economic security of hundreds of thousands of Canadians — including tens of thousands of British Columbians — by threatening to limit what can go inside a pipeline — which they don't have the authority to do," the statement said.

"We will defend our actions vigorously on behalf of working people."

Sour grapes

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced the ban on B.C. wine in early February, saying she wants progress on an impasse with B.C. over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The dispute began shortly after B.C. Premier John Horgan's government announced a proposal to restrict increased shipments of diluted bitumen while it studies the environmental impact of a potential spill.

B.C. is also appealing a National Energy Board decision that allowed pipeline builder Kinder Morgan Canada to bypass local regulations in the construction of its pipeline.

On Friday, Notley threatened to ratchet up the pressure if B.C. doesn't reverse its decision to ban the increased shipping of bitumen off its coast pending the review of spill safety measures.

Alberta believes B.C.'s move will effectively kill Kinder Morgan Canada's pipeline expansion, which the province deems critical to getting a better price for its oil.

With files from the Canadian Press