Politics

B.C., Ontario and Quebec strike deal making it easier to buy their wines

Fed up with not being able to buy B.C. wines in Ontario? A solution — at least a partial one — is at hand. An agreement between B.C., Ontario and Quebec to offer a way for consumers to purchase out-of-province wine online was announced Friday in Whitehorse.

'The grapes are freer': Premiers explain this is only the first step

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard joked with reporters about how far their respective wine industries have come. They've reached a three-province deal to make it easier for consumers to purchase out-of-province wine, announced Friday at the summer premiers' meeting in Whitehorse. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Fed up with not being able to buy B.C. wines in Ontario? A solution — at least a partial one — may be at hand.

The premiers of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec announced an agreement Friday to make it easier to purchase Canadian wines that aren't made in the province where you live.

"We have not freed the grapes completely but they are freer," B.C. Premier Christy Clark said.

"We've unshackled them," Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said.

The sales will continue to be overseen and regulated by each province's respective liquor distribution agency: B.C.'s Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB), the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).

But the goal is to make it easier for consumers to order wine from outside their province online. They could then pick it up at either their local distributor or have it shipped directly to their door.

The changes also intend to make it easier for wineries to be listed with the liquor distributors in other provinces.

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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne called it "the biggest change which has been made since prohibition in Ontario."

The new e-commerce site that's now in the works for the three provinces is "in the spirit of freer trade across the country," she said.

Started with a gift

Wynne and Clark joked about how their work on this issue began when Clark brought Wynne a nice bottle of B.C. wine to the premiers' meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in 2013 to prove the point that Wynne couldn't get that wine in her province.

Clark called Ontario's system of liquor regulations "byzantine."

"If we can't be free traders among us, consumers can't win, taxpayers can't win and our businesses and our industries can't win. So I think this is a very important step," Clark said.

The agreement includes a marketing push to promote Canada's important wine regions.

Wynne said that the industry in Canada is young. 

"Thirty years ago there was no wine industry in Ontario ... or not one that would have passed the Quebec test," she joked, referring to the province's discriminating wine consumers.

The three provincial governments are working on opening up access to new wine producers from places like Quebec.

"This is significant progress for both consumers and producers, but more will come. We are definitely moving in that direction," Couillard said. He added that other provinces are welcome to join the system they've now set up.

The premiers acknowledged that this is not fully free trade but rather the first in several steps forward they wish to make. They said it was better to implement a partial solution now than wait several more years for more ambitious liberalization.

Complex trade file

Implementing full direct-to-consumer wine sales may have violated international trade agreements already in effect or poised to come into effect, such as Canada's deal with the European Union.

It would also be very expensive for a province like Ontario to get out of the wine sales business, given the millions in revenue it currently generates. 

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark told reporters in Whitehorse this week that it makes no sense that you can't get B.C. wine more easily in Ontario. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

B.C. has negotiated earlier agreements to get more access for its wines in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.
Friday's announcement is part of Ontario's gradual effort to offer alcohol consumers more choice, including expanding sales to some grocery stores.

Couillard and Clark both told reporters Thursday it was important to get a deal done so other Canadians could enjoy their provinces' products.

Premiers in Whitehorse are discussing a broader and more ambitious internal trade deal. But because alcohol liberalization is so complicated across the provinces, beer and wine trade wasn't necessarily expected to be included in an agreement, should one be reached.

Saskatchewan and Alberta are in discussions of their own over an Alberta decision to place an extra tax on small breweries from out-of-province.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told reporters on his way into Friday's meeting that he and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley spoke Thursday, and the matter has been referred to their officials to resolve.

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