British Columbia

Premier Horgan tells Alberta to end 'threatening position' boycotting B.C. wine

One B.C. winery called the trade war brewing between Alberta and B.C. "rather silly" and encouraged the provinces to sit down and reach a compromise — over a glass of wine, of course.

B.C. Liberals say NDP should stop fighting Trans Mountain expansion after Alberta announces wine boycott

B.C. Premier John Horgan says Alberta should take any disputes it has with its western neighbour to court instead of boycotting products. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

B.C. Premier John Horgan urged Alberta to step back from its "threatening position" of boycotting B.C. wine.

Horgan released a brief statement Tuesday afternoon after his Alberta counterpart Rachel Notley announced the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) will immediately halt the imports of all wines from B.C.

The AGLC controls almost all alcohol imports into the province.

The move follows B.C.'s announcement of further review of the oil-spill risk from the Trans Mountain Pipeline, a move that could delay a project Alberta sees as vital to its economy.

"Our government has every right to consult with British Columbians on the best possible measures to protect our lands and waters from the potential impacts of diluted bitumen spills," Horgan said.

"If Alberta disagrees they can make that argument in the proper venue, in our court system.

"Our consultation on proposed new regulations hasn't even begun, but Alberta has seen fit to take measures to impact B.C. business."

Horgan said his government "will respond" to the boycott, but did not explain what that response will look like.

'Spat is simply a lose-lose'

The B.C. Liberals say the boycott shows it's time to stop fighting the pipeline expansion by Kinder Morgan, already approved by the federal government.

Agriculture critic Ian Paton said the "trade war" needs to end for the sake of the wine industry, which he said is a $2.8-billion industry employing 12,000 people.

He accused the NDP of fighting the pipeline expansion merely to please the Green Party, whose MLAs support Horgan's government but were displeased by his approval of the Site C Dam.

"Unfortunately, this trade spat is simply a lose-lose for everyone," Paton said in the statement.

"We have agricultural workers who are going to lose jobs and Albertans who are going to lose out on our premium wine. British Columbians shouldn't be in the crossfire of NDP governments fighting."

Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said much the same.

"The wine sector is going to be the innocent victim of a petty dispute between two NDP governments," he said. "This is totally unnecessary."

Wineries concerned

British Columbians in the wine industry say the news is already giving them a hangover.

Sandra Oldfield, the founder of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, says it's disappointing Alberta has targeted an industry that has nothing to do with energy.

"I don't understand the leverage between those two things," she said.

"I just think its an easy target because wineries have wine bottles, which have labels on them. If we made something that didn't have a label on it, it wouldn't be discussed today."

Brian Ensor, the general manager of Chaberton Estate Winery in Langley, conducts a tasting on Tuesday, Feb 6, 2018. (CBC)

Brian Ensor, the general manager of Chaberton Estate Winery in Langley, called for both provinces to sit down — with a glass of wine, of course — and discuss a solution before things escalate.

"What's next? Could it be beef? They're talking electricity. This seems rather silly," he said.

"There's a solution to be made. They just need to sit down and reach it."

Alberta 'by far' B.C.'s 2nd biggest market

The B.C. Wine Institute, which represents 276 wineries in the province, said it was "shocked" by the boycott.

"The BCWI believes that it is important for all Canadian provinces to work together and trade together to strengthen our position nationally and internationally," CEO Miles Prodan said in a statement. "We are very surprised by today's announcement."

Prodan says the Alberta market is "by far" the second-biggest buyer of B.C. wine, after B.C. itself, accounting for 10 to 15 percent of sales.

For context, he said Ontario, the third-largest buyer, only accounts for about three percent of sales.

Wine columnist Mike Klassen says the move to "stick it" to B.C. by going after wine is surprising because many wine tourists — and even some vintners — in B.C. are actually Albertans.

Klassen says he's taking a "glass half full" view of the situation, at least in the near term, because the boycott is giving the industry plenty of attention and he's hearing of some Albertans stocking up on B.C. wine.

"If this carries on for a long time, it might eventually have an impact on people who maybe want to vacation somewhere else," he said.

"Of course, they have a lot of other choices besides British Columbia for buying a bottle of wine."

Klassen says smaller producers are not likely to be hurt, as they are not stocked by AGLC stores. He says larger wineries are the ones more likely to take a hit.

With files from Justin McElroy, Joshua McLean and Meera Bains