New Brunswick

Supporter of cross-border booze runs welcomes the 'hypocrisy' of Brian Gallant

A group that supported Gerard Comeau in his fight to buy beer in Quebec and bring it across the border into New Brunswick is surprised but pleased to hear some provinces might favour a freer movement of alcohol.

Howard Anglin pleased with premier's apparent about-face on freer movement of alcohol

Howard Anglin, executive director of the Alberta-based Canadian Constitution Foundation said there is no reason why the provinces can't put new rules in place to allow for the cross-border sale of alcohol. (CBC)

A group that supported Gerard Comeau in his losing fight to buy beer in Quebec and bring it home to New Brunswick is surprised but pleased some provinces might now favour a freer movement of alcohol.

But it's still hypocrisy for provincial governments to be suggesting change now, said Howard Anglin, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

It was only in April that New Brunswick won its fight against Comeau in the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Now they are saying, 'Wow, wouldn't it be great if everybody could do what Gerard Comeau did,'" Anglin said Tuesday.

"Yeah, that's hypocrisy." 

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, who is hosting other premiers this week in Saint Andrews, recently said he wanted to explore the freer movement of alcohol across borders. He was responding to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister's call for the elimination of restrictions on cross-border booze runs.

Anglin said his initial reaction when he heard the premiers' comments was, "Oh, the politicians are finally starting to get this." His second thought was that he should wait and see what the politicians actually do.

Gerard Comeau lost his fight over the cross-border purchase of alcohol when the province appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

The subject of opening provincial borders somewhat will be discussed at the premiers conference this week. 

Gallant told CBC News a working group of trade ministers is expected to come back soon with recommendations and suggestions for how to make it work. 

But Anglin said he doesn't expect to see anything happening soon.

"We're a long way, even crediting these provinces, we'd be a long way from actual free trade in alcohol. There'd still be a lot of restrictions, including for private businesses." 

New rules, private distribution

Asked if NB Liquor would have to be dismantled if new rules were put in place, Anglin told Information Morning Fredericton he didn't think so, if the Crown corporation could be as efficient as a private distributor. 

"I've lived in London in the U.K., I've lived in New York in the states. I don't think most Canadians are fully aware how anachronistic our system is." 

Anglin compared provincial monopolies over alcohol sales to the old Soviet-style economic system.

"Every other jurisdiction in the world, from Australia to France to California, has managed to have the sale of alcohol be through normal, private means, just like any other legal goods."

Anglin said these countries don't lack for revenue, and drunkenness in the streets has not become a problem.

"Things managed to survive," he said. "And I think Canadians deserve a shot at the same selection that the private sector provides elsewhere." 

Working for some provinces

Anglin said he thinks most provinces realize government-controlled distribution may be a problem but they will never admit it. 

"I think they're aware of it because they see it working in other parts of the country, and I don't know what's holding them back. And I think if they're changing their tune, it's overdue and welcome." 

Manitoba and Alberta are starting to make changes that haven't affected their tax revenues.

"In fact, they started to go up, probably because more people were buying more in the province," he said.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said the premiers are expecting to receive recommendations from a group of trade ministers about how to make the cross-border sale of alcohol work from a working group of trade ministers. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Anglin even wondered if the uncertainty over international free trade may be changing some thinking.

Asked what a realistic time frame would be for the changes, Anglin said new rules by the new year would be welcome.

"I think they're under some pressure to deliver now that they've talked such a great game, Gallant and Pallister and couple of others." 

Anglin said Canadians are going to expect bold changes and be allowed to do the things Comeau was stopped from doing. 

"If they don't allow for Canadians to personally transport legally bought products from one province to another freely, then I think they won't have delivered on their promise." 


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