Alberta government boycotts B.C. wine

Alberta's government will immediately boycott all imports of wines from British Columbia, Premier Rachel Notley announced Tuesday, escalating the inter-provincial spat over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

Premier Rachel Notley ups ante in spat over pipeline expansion

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced Tuesday her government will place an immediate boycott on B.C. wines. (CBC)

Alberta's government will immediately boycott all imports of wines from British Columbia, Premier Rachel Notley announced Tuesday, escalating the inter-provincial spat over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. 

The province's tough stance follows B.C.'s call last week for further review of the oil-spill risk from the pipeline expansion, a move that could delay a project Alberta sees as vital to its economy.

Alberta first retaliated by suspending talks to buy B.C. electricity.

But Notley upped the stakes dramatically on Tuesday, saying the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) will immediately halt the import of all wines from its western neighbour. The AGLC controls almost all alcohol imports into the province, which are then sold through privately owned liquor stores. 

"The wine industry is very important to B.C.," Notley said at a news conference from the Alberta Legislature. "Not nearly as important as the energy industry is to Alberta and Canada, but important nonetheless.

"I know a lot of Albertans who love B.C. wine. Quite frankly, I'm one of them."

​In 2017, Alberta imported about ​17.2 million bottles of wine from B.C., Notley said. That amounts to about $70 million per year paid to B.C. wineries. About 95 per cent of Canadian wine sold in Alberta liquor stores is from B.C. 

The AGLC will also be "stepping up enforcement on direct-to-consumer sales," the premier said. 

In response, B.C. Premier John Horgan said his government has the right to consult with citizens on the impact of diluted bitumen spills on the coastline. 

"If Alberta disagrees they can make that argument in the proper venue, in our court system," Horgan said in a written statement. 

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

"I urge Alberta to step back from this threatening position.

"We stand with B.C. wine producers and will respond to the unfair trade actions announced today."

Alberta plans legal action

Of the B.C. wine already in the province, Notley said her government encourages Albertans to think about the province's energy workers when ordering a beverage in a bar or restaurant.

"Maybe choose some terrific Alberta craft beer instead."

Notley added this is one step toward waking B.C. up and forcing the federal government to take action. 

Notley said she regrets the boycott will hurt the B.C. wine industry but said she is frustrated that Alberta is playing by the rules for pipeline approvals while B.C. continues to flout them. 

The premier said her government still plans to take legal action against B.C. on the issue. 

The AGLC says there are currently about 160,000 cases of B.C. wine in its Alberta warehouses. That supply would last about 30 to 35 days based on last year's daily average sales figures, a spokeswoman said. 

Fort McMurray restaurant owner 'proud'

Notley noted the boycott was prompted by suggestions from Albertans. 

One of the first to go public with a boycott was Karen Collins, owner of Asti Trattoria Italiana in Fort McMurray, who announced last week she would no longer carry B.C. wines. On Tuesday, she said she never believed her stance "would snowball like this." 

"Proud of my community and my province," she said on Facebook. 

But some wine customers weren't so sure. 

Larry Nicholat, 72, has been drinking wine for more than 50 years. He said he likely wouldn't notice a sudden disappearance in B.C. wines from Alberta shelves — but he's still not a fan of the strategy taken by the Notley government.

"I won't feel ridiculously deprived because I won't have this," Nicholat said outside UnWined Fine Wine in downtown Edmonton. "I just don't like the idea."

Nicholat said the boycott hurts the B.C. wine industry and limits consumer choice in Alberta.

Edmonton resident Larry Nicholat doesn't approve of the Alberta government's B.C. wine boycott. (CBC)

 "We live in a world where choice is a part of life and I don't think most people would view reducing choices as a good thing," he said.

"I'd just leave the wine thing alone."

But Nicholat isn't sure B.C. wines will disappear off the shelves at all. He thinks the process will take time and, by then, the two governments will resolve their spat.

"It's going to blow over," Nicholat said. "Like it always does."

Industry group Restaurants Canada said it opposed the boycott as it is using Alberta consumers and B.C. businesses as pawns in a provincial trade war. 

"As a country, we are trying to strike down domestic and international trade barriers and this decision moves us in the completely wrong direction," Mark von Schellwitz, Western Canada vice-president, said in a statement. 

Jason Kenney, the leader of the United Conservative Party Official Opposition, said in tweets he supported Notley's boycott. 

"This response is hardly proportionate," Kenney noted.

"The value of oil shipments is orders of magnitude larger than that of B.C. wine sold in Alberta.

"But perhaps this response will get the attention of the B.C. NDP, and underscore that Alberta is serious about defending Canada's economic union."

Notley hinted the boycott could have political consequences for Premier John Horgan, who has the slimmest of majorities in the B.C. Legislature. A byelection is underway in the heart of B.C. wine country to fill the Kelowna West seat vacated by former B.C. Liberal premier Christy Clark. 

When asked if she felt the Alberta wine boycott could have an impact, Notley responded, "I'm not sure who expected to win what in that byelection but I suspect it will be matter of discussion." 

However, Kelowna West has been held by the Liberals for decades.