Albas drives throne speech home

Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas points instead to news of a trade agreement he expects to help local businesses.

Items like cheaper roaming service and better cable channel choices may be making headlines for the latest federal throne speech, but Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas points instead to news of a trade agreement he expects to help local businesses.

“I think one big one is the European Union, the comprehensive economic and trade agreement,” said Albas, adding that the throne speech advised the government is close to concluding negotiations.

“That is very important for us in Okanagan-Coquihalla. We have a lot of companies that do business outside of Canada. To have that market open up will be big.”

Albas quoted figures like adding $12 billion to the national GDP and 80,000 jobs across the country, but added that the tangible benefits to smaller companies like Nor-Mar Industries in Penticton and Unit Electrical Engineering in Okanagan Falls could be enormous.

“These companies compete internationally,” he said. “The EU is actually looking to these trade measures as a stimulus for their economy. But for us, this will be a great stimulus measure that won’t cost the Canadian taxpayer a dime.”

Mark Burleigh, president of UEE, doesn’t expect the trade agreement to have an immediate effect on their operations.

“Our EU business is minimal to say the least,” said Burleigh, noting their overseas business is primarily in Russia, China and South America.

While the opening of the EU market would likely have little effect on current operations, Burleigh agreed it might expand some opportunities.

“It could assist in opening up some of the markets in countries where we have received enquiries, like Turkey. It does no harm to us. It could possibly assist in maybe entering these markets we are not in right now.”

Another group that may benefit from goals outlined in the throne speech are craft brewers and distillers.

“It sounds like the government is looking to make an amendment to the importation of intoxicating liquors, similar to what my private member’s bill did for the Free My Grapes movement,” said Albas.

According to the throne speech, the government will amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act to allow Canadians to take beer and spirits across provincial boundaries for their own use.

“Again, this is about changing a 1928 piece of legislation. We are seeing a chipping away at these borders and we are seeing more competition and more openness for consumers,” said Albas.

“I think just about everybody in the beverage industry … is always in favour of things being relaxed,” said Pat Dyck of the Cannery Brewing Company. They often have to tell visitors from Alberta and other provinces about the regulation.

“To answer the question, ‘Can I take this back with me?,’ you have to say, ‘No, not really.’

Then they judge their own comfort zone,” said Dyck. “It makes no sense for Canadians not to be able to buy Canadian product.”

Craft brewers across the country, Albas said, have seen an increase in their market of 50 per cent. The legislation, when amended, will expand possibilities, allowing visitors to craft breweries, like Tin Whistle or the Cannery Brewing Company in Penticton, to bring product home across provincial borders.

“That boutique beer buyer is not necessarily a different person than that boutique wine buyer,” said Dyck. “They are people who are looking for value, for unique tastes, often for local things.”

See 2013 throne speech promises balanced budgets, cyber-bullying law for more.