Albas challenges wine barriers

Wineries may have something to toast with the fall session of the Legislature, as a local parliamentarian takes on a federal law that has gathered more dust than perpetrators.

  • Oct. 4, 2011 11:00 a.m.

Wineries may have something to toast with the fall session of the Legislature, as a local parliamentarian takes on a federal law that has gathered more dust than perpetrators.

Conservative MP Dan Albas (Okanagan-Coquihalla) has devoted his first private member’s bill to championing a long-held cause for the local wine industry: taking down inter-provincial importation of liquor.

On Monday, Albas presented the bill which calls for amendments to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, which would allow for inter-provincial importation of wine for personal use. He said Friday that he drafted the bill after hearing from so many in the riding about the issue this summer.

“When I’ve asked them about different ways to help their local economy in the region, that came up from people who not only produce wine and the agricultural sector, but also everyday people,” he said. “We have world-class wines here. Why can we sell it in the States without hitting these borders, but why is it between Alberta or another province? Why is it still there?

“The answer is it’s Prohibition-era legislation made in 1928, and it makes it illegal to purchase wine in one province and bring that wine back home. That law acts as an inter-provincial trade barrier.”

Albas said the law may have been on the books for almost a century, but it hasn’t been put to work much in those decades. His research has shown that no one has ever been charged or fined under the act.

“Ultimately, most Canadians would agree this law is outdated, impractical and some people have told me they think it’s downright silly,” he said. “That’s the reason why I’m making this issue my private member’s bill, because it’s an issue that will be a benefit to Canadians as a whole.”

In addition to allowing Canadian residents to carry wine across the border for their own use, the amendments also open the door for provinces to oversee winery shipments direct to consumers across the country.

“Small wineries who are legitimately playing by the rules now are at a disadvantage. People would agree this is a modest but necessary change,” he said.

Private member’s bills do not, however, have a strong record of receiving royal assent. Only a fraction are ultimately passed by Parliament and the Senate. Albas said that he has been speaking with Ontario colleagues whose constituencies also feature burgeoning wine industries, and also sees potential support across the House from Opposition colleagues, given NDP MP Alex Atamanenko (Southern Interior) has written in support of similar changes.

“At the end of the day, this is a law (that makes) what most people consider a regular practice an illegitimate exercise. This is one case where we as parliamentarians, we can show that leadership and make some reasonable changes,” he said, adding that less red tape means more red wine for aficionados across the country.

“Wine consumers don’t have the freedom of choice to sample from the winery of their choosing…

“We know first hand in the Okanagan the value of a thriving wine industry. I think opening up the Canadian market to consumers will benefit the wine industry across Canada as a whole.”

Albas’s motion comes on the heels of movement by the B.C. and Canadian chambers of commerce, which have been calling for action on the federal level to remove inter-provincial importation legislation.

Albas said those interested in seeing the bill’s progress can visit a Facebook site devoted to the cause by searching “End wine prohibition in Canada,” where they can sign a letter to be sent to their local MP.