Alberta brewers disappointed as Supreme Court upholds cross-border beer trade restrictions

Alberta craft brewers said they weren't surprised by Thursday's Supreme Court ruling that upheld restrictions on alcohol crossing provincial borders, but they are a bit frustrated.

Current regulations make it tricky to export alcohol to other provinces

Colin McLean with Banded Peak Brewing is disappointed by the Supreme Court of Canada's decision to uphold restrictions on inter-provincial beer trade restrictions. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Alberta craft brewers said they weren't surprised by Thursday's Supreme Court ruling that upheld restrictions on alcohol crossing provincial borders, but they are a bit frustrated.

"As an Alberta brewer, we're definitely a little disappointed with how it shook out there," said Colin McLean of Calgary's Banded Peak Brewing.

Banded Peak hopes to eventually expand out of Alberta, but the current rules make that tough.

"It does provide an impediment for us to sell to B.C., to Ontario. That's a very closed market. Quebec as well."

Growlers hang from the ceiling at Banded Peak Brewing Company in Calgary. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

The Supreme Court case centred on a New Brunswick man who drives a few times each year to Quebec, where it's cheaper to buy beer and liquor. 

The court ruled that provinces have a constitutional right to regulate the import of goods like alcohol and tobacco, as long as the purpose of the restriction is for reasons other than impeding free trade — like allowing liquor boards to regulate the flow of alcohol through each province.

Alberta has fewer restrictions on alcohol sales than other Canadian provinces, something McLean said will likely be a point of discussion across the country following the ruling.

"It's started a conversation across the country about liberalizing some of these liquor boards and opening them up to some more free trade like we have in Alberta. And if that's coming from top brass, or politicians or even citizens that are electing these politicians — I think that conversation's out there right now, and it'll be tough to put it back in the jar."

Stephen Anderchek is the business manager at Village Brewery. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Village Brewery's Stephen Anderchek said the ruling doesn't change his business plan to sell in other jurisdictions. The Calgary-based brewery already sells its products in Saskatchewan, and its brews will soon be available in Manitoba.

"We'll still definitely try to list our products [in other provinces]. It might just be a slower process," he said.

Anderchek said that, while it would be nice if it was easier for his company to list its products in other provinces, at the end of the day the decision has "no material impact."

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci said while the decision doesn't really impact people bringing alcohol into the province for personal use, as that's already allowed in Alberta, he has heard from local brewers about the barriers they face being "frozen out" of other markets.

"It's difficult for our liquor manufacturers to get their product into [other markets]," he said. "It just reinforces that Alberta has already something that other provinces wish they had."

With files from Anis Heydari, Karina Roman