British Columbia

B.C. pleased with Ottawa's move to lift federal booze barriers

B.C. is welcoming federal legislation that would lift national restrictions on interprovincial alcohol sales. It would leave individual provinces to come up with their own frameworks.

Move will benefit British Columbians, says Attorney General David Eby

B.C. Attorney General David Eby welcomes federal legislation that removes national barriers on interprovincial alcohol sales. (Tanya Fletcher/CBC)

B.C. is welcoming a move by Ottawa to lift interprovincial restrictions on beer, wine and spirits.

This week, the federal government introduced legislation it says will remove the final national barrier on the movement of booze between provinces and territories.

If passed, it would abolish the federal law that requires alcohol shipments to pass through a provincial liquor authority. 

"This raises the possibility of free exchange of Canadian products across the country, which will certainly benefit British Columbians," said B.C. Attorney General David Eby.

The new rules would leave it up to individual provinces to make their own frameworks for direct-to-consumer sales across Canada.

B.C. wineries, distilleries and craft breweries would have direct-to-consumer access if Ottawa passes legislation to lift national restrictions. (cedarcreek.bc.ca)

"This makes it possible, for example, for a winery here to ship their product directly to a customer in another province," Eby told CBC on Wednesday.

He used the example of a winery in B.C. that might have only had a handful of potential customers in Manitoba.

"It might not have been justified to have to deal with the bureaucracy of the liquor authority in Manitoba before, but now this creates the possibility for [the winery] to do that — assuming that we can strike a deal up with Manitoba."

Eby said B.C. already has arrangements like this with some provinces — Ontario, for example — but this would make it much easier to do on a national scale "whether they appreciate products from other provinces or whether they work in the production side in a winery or a distillery or a craft brewery."

Ease restrictions, ease frustrations

The issue has been a point of consumer contention for decades and was highlighted by a case on the east coast last year.

A New Brunswick man lost a five-year "free the beer" court fight after trying to stock up on cheaper beer in neighbouring Quebec.

The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that Canadians do not have a constitutional right to buy and transport alcohol across provincial borders without impediments.

The nine-justice panel said provinces have the right to restrict the importation of goods from another province, as long as the primary aim of the restriction is not to impede trade.

Internal Trade Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Tuesday that Canadians have been frustrated by provincial and territorial trade restrictions for too long.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadians do not have a constitutional right to transport unlimited amounts of alcohol across provincial lines, ending a five year legal battle started by the New Brunswick man at the centre of the 'free-the-beer' movement. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"I think the federal government is right," agreed Eby. "It's exciting they are moving in this direction and we want to work with other provinces to start to implement it."

When asked how long that might take, he said still-to-come details from the federal government will ultimately pave the way for provinces to start negotiating with each other.

"This will depend on how other provinces land on this issue, how enthusiastic they are about it, where it falls with their priorities," explained Eby.

He said this is good news not only for producers in this province looking to expand their customer base, but also for consumers in B.C. eager to try products from elsewhere across the country.

"We'll be pushing this with our provincial counterparts, hopefully sooner rather than later."

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