New Brunswick

'A huge economic opportunity': trade barriers at stake in border booze case

Gerard Comeau's legal fight against New Brunswick's limits on bringing alcohol into the province stands to create "a huge economic opportunity for Canada," says the executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

Canadian Constitution Foundation 'cautiously optimistic' Supreme Court will rule in Gerard Comeau's favour

While the Comeau case deals with an interprovincial trade barrier in alcohol, other trade barriers for products such as eggs, milk, wheat and maple syrup could be affected by the Supreme Court of Canada's eventual decision. (B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch)

Gerard Comeau's legal fight against New Brunswick's limits on bringing alcohol into the province stands to create "a huge economic opportunity for Canada," says the executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear New Brunswick's appeal of a provincial court ruling the acquitted the retired NB Power lineman from Tracadie of violating the Liquor Control Act on the grounds that the restriction violates the free-trade provisions of the 1867 Constitution.

While the Comeau case deals with alcohol, Howard Anglin says the Supreme Court's eventual ruling in the case could have implications for "literally hundreds" of interprovincial trade barriers across the country.

'Economic shot in the arm'

"Getting rid of these hundreds of interprovincial trade barriers … would be the biggest economic shot in the arm to Canada probably since [the Second World War]," Anglin said Friday on Information Morning Fredericton.

Howard Anglin of Canadian Constitution Foundation says removing interprovincial trade barriers could give Canada its biggest economic boost since the Second World War. (/Postmedia )
The case could have "profound implications for any other monopoly or cartel, including dairy boards, egg marketing boards, wheat boards, the maple syrup cartel in Quebec," said Anglin.

"Anything where provinces erect, deliberately erect, systems to keep competitive goods out from other provinces — this would, if not eliminate those, at least shake the foundations on which they are built."

Anglin said studies have shown Canada loses between $50 billion and $130 billion in year in gross domestic product because of the inefficiencies produced by interprovincial trade barriers.

Anglin's organization provided legal assistance to Comeau to fight the case. In agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court directed that Comeau's legal costs for fighting the case in the country's highest court be paid for by the New Brunswick government.

'Cautiously optimistic'

Anglin said they are "cautiously optimistic" about having the Supreme Court rule in Comeau's favour.

"We don't think the court would have taken the case unless they saw a real problem with the status quo in the law right now," he said.

Gerard Comeau was charged in 2012 after bringing 14 cases of beer and three bottles of alcohol into New Brunswick from Quebec. Provincial laws allow for only 12 pints of beer or one bottle of alcohol or wine to be imported from another province. (Bridget Yard/CBC)
The decision in R vs. Comeau by Judge Ronald LeBlanc is a provincial court decision and doesn't have any real value as a precedent in New Brunswick or elsewhere, notes Anglin.

"The Supreme Court could have just left it alone and it would been an interesting decision, a footnote in constitutional history, but it wouldn't have any sweeping effect across Canada," he said.

The ruling hinges on Section 121 of the 1867 Constitution, which states products from any province "shall … be admitted free into each of the other provinces."

Also key to the case is a 1920 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Gold Seal Ltd. vs. Dominion Express Co. that held that constitutional provision meant only that provinces couldn't impose tariffs on goods at their border.

1920 ruling challenged

Anglin's organization believes the 1920 case was wrongly decided by the Supreme Court.

"The only real reason I think the Supreme Court would take it is because at least some of the judges on the Supreme Court are interested in the implications of it and hopefully correcting this historic wrong."

Anglin expects New Brunswick to "try and raise the bogeyman" of the court disrupting 100-year-old laws across the country, throwing provinces into confusion and creating economic chaos.

"I think most economists would tell you that's ridiculous," said Anglin. "It would actually [create] massive economic opportunity."

New Brunswick government representatives and those in the public prosecution service are not commenting on the case in any detail.

A date has not been set for the Supreme Court to hear the Comeau case.

With files from Information Morning


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