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Whining for our rights: How Okanagan wine is affected by Canadian policy

This article is an editorial contribution by a UBC Okanagan student via KelownaNow's Economics in Media program.

April is BC Wine month so there is no better time to talk about BC wine, or for many, the lack thereof.

Canadian law currently allows for the restriction of the interprovincial trade of wine. Put simply, other provinces can’t get their hands on BC wines and we can’t get ours on theirs.

What we do get however, are international wines spanning from new world to old world. There is an abundance of choices available to Canadian consumers looking to purchase wine, just as long as they aren’t Canadian wines.

So, why is it that there are dozens of Argentinian Malbecs, but only a few Sauvignon Blancs from Ontario? Carey Doberstein, Professor of Canadian Politics at the University of British
Columbia believes that “what this is all about is provinces protecting their own wine and beer industries”.

This is a reference to liquor board protectionism. The real competition is introduced when consumers want Canadian wines, not international ones. Liquor boards want to ensure that if British Columbians are buying wine, they’re buying BC wine, a selfish sentiment shared in all provinces.

Since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling, there has been overwhelming support for the free trade of wine across Canada. Here in British Columbia, the BC Wine Institute introduced its own “Free My Grapes” campaign, alongside others such as the Canadian Vintners Alliance which are aimed at educating the public on the current and proposed changes to Canadian legislation.

The latest Federal budget promises to loosen the restrictions around provincial barriers for out-of-province wine. The federal government’s legislation would allow consumers to order wine directly from the winery, essentially bypassing the liquor store entirely. This, however, remains problematic, mainly because of high shipping prices and the impracticality of having the consumer order directly from the producer.

Tom Furrer works at Mission Hill Winery, one of BC’s largest wineries, shipping wine to Canadians across the country. He comments, “Interprovincial trade barriers are only impeding wine industry growth in Canada, causing undue frustration and inconvenience for Canadian consumers. Canada is the only wine producing nation that has such inconvenient barriers in place and removing them would have a positive impact across the Canadian economy as a whole.”

While the federal government can propose legislation that allows consumers to purchase directly from the producer, the significant choice to remove of interprovincial barriers remain under provincial jurisdiction. This sense of helplessness was reflected in Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s recent visit to Kelowna, in which he stated, “We’ve tried to take away all federal barriers to moving wine in particular across the
provinces” but went on to say, “I would still encourage everyone who is engaged in this to continue pushing at the provincial level to make sure it’s happening.”

So, what does that mean for us? Right now, it means that there is little change happening in Canadian policy to tackle this heated issue, but hope is not lost. It is expected that interprovincial trade will be a hot topic in the upcoming federal elections. In the meantime, the opportunity for change remains in the hands of the people to keep whining for our right to wine.

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