Alberta MP introduces bill to help alcohol flow freely between provinces

A southern Alberta politician says Canada's "antiquated" prohibition-era liquor legislation is hurting the country's alcohol producers.

Bill C-351 would allow producers to sell directly to consumers without permission of provincial liquor boards

Foothills MP John Barlow says Canada's prohibition-era liquor legislation is makes it difficult for Canadian breweries, distilleries and wineries to market their products in other provinces. (Colin Hall/CBC)

A southern Alberta politician says Canada's "antiquated" prohibition-era liquor legislation is hurting the country's alcohol producers.

In April, John Barlow, the MP for Foothills and opposition critic for interprovincial trade, introduced a private member's bill to allow alcohol to flow a little more freely between provinces.

Currently, Canada's Intoxicating Liquors Act prohibits producers from being able to sell their products across provincial lines without first seeking permission from the other province's liquor board.    

Free trade in Canada

Barlow said the federal Conservative Party had high hopes in the Canada Free Trade Agreement announced mid-April, but the number of exemptions in the agreement, which included alcohol, fuelled the party's need to act to help open Canadian markets. 

"We knew alcohol was not going to be included and we were certainly hearing from our craft brewers, our craft distillers, wineries … that they were having much more success being able to market their products to Texas than Toronto," Barlow told the Calgary Eyeopener Monday.

Bill C-351 — An Act to amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act and the Excise Act — would allow alcohol producers to sell their product directly to the consumer without having to go through a provincial liquor board, Barlow said. The bill would also allow a person to transport alcohol from one province to another for personal use.

Barlow said the the bill as a "small step forward."

"The bill would not impact provincial rules, it's just an amendment to federal legislation that is really leftover from prohibition," he said. 

"It's not the end result we want. Our end result is to have alcohol included in the Canadian Free Trade agreement, for producers across Canada to be able to market and sell their products anywhere in Canada."

Provincial barriers

All Canadian provinces, with the exception of Alberta and Manitoba, have strict limits in place on how much alcohol can be bought across the provincial border. According to a study published last year by the Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, internal trade barriers reduce Canada's gross domestic product by $50 billion to $130 billion.

Barlow said his alcohol amendment bill is getting support across partisan lines. 

"Not only would this [bill] help our producers — who are Canadian entrepreneurs, using Canadian products, hiring Canadians, but it's also about consumer choice," he said.

"I think it's time we stepped into the 21st century and made some changes and had a true Canadian free trade agreement."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener