Alcohol not included in interprovincial trade deal due to appeal

A pending deal to lower trade barriers between the provinces won't include beer and liquor, according to a New Brunswick cabinet minister.

Cabinet minister Roger Melanson contradicts federal minister on whether alcohol included in deal

Cabinet minister Roger Melanson said Thursday that a pending interprovincial trade deal won't include alcohol because the province is appealing the Gerard Comeau court ruling. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

A pending deal to lower trade barriers between the provinces won't include beer and liquor, according to a New Brunswick cabinet minister.

Roger Melanson says the deal will leave out the contentious question because the province is appealing the Gerard Comeau ruling on cross-border beer shopping.

"It's not being discussed at this time because it's in front of the courts," Melanson, the minister responsible for trade issues, told reporters Thursday.

Federal cabinet minister Navdeep Bains said in May that a new interprovincial trade agreement would deal with the interprovincial movement of alcohol. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
That contradicts federal economic minister Navdeep Bains, who said in May that the "comprehensive" interprovincial trade agreement would deal with interprovincial shopping for beer.

Bains called the Comeau ruling "a very positive development" and said "that is why I am working very closely with my provincial and territorial counterparts on an agreement on internal trade."

Rules in limbo

New Brunswick's protectionist rules on beer imports were thrown into legal limbo in April when a provincial court judge acquitted Comeau of violating the Liquor Control Act.

Comeau was charged after bringing 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor across the border from Quebec into New Brunswick.

I think it's important that we respect the fact that the court system is looking at this.- Roger Melanson, minister responsible for trade

The judge ruled that provincial restrictions violated a clause in the 1867 Constitution Act that guaranteed the free movement of goods between the provinces.

The province is appealing the ruling. Conservative MP Dan Albas called for the federal Liberal government to fast-track it to the Supreme Court of Canada, but Bains, the federal minister overseeing internal trade, said the comprehensive trade deal "will address that issue."

Now Melanson says it won't. "I think it's important that we respect the fact that the court system is looking at this."

Deal expected in summer

Media reports suggest the provinces and Ottawa could announce the internal trade deal this summer. It's expected to eliminate a range of protectionist measures, including restrictions on companies in one province bidding on government contracts in another province.
The provincial court decision that struck down New Brunswick Liquor Control Act charges against Gerard Comeau is being appealed by the New Brunswick government. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Melanson confirmed that the negotiations on the deal began long before the Comeau beer ruling. He said "There were some conversations" about beer and liquor early on but they didn't lead anywhere.

After a final ruling in the Comeau appeal, "There may be more conversations, and trade discussions [on beer and liquor], but at this time we believe it's not appropriate," Melanson said.

He also pointed out that beer and liquor sales are "a huge revenue generator for any provincial jurisdiction, and certainly in New Brunswick."

NB Liquor brought in more than $160 million for the provincial government in 2014-15.

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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