The provincial NDP leader is pleading with the newly re-elected Ontario premier to call for change to the wine industry.
Adrian Dix and NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham sent a letter to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty asking for support to show the shelf life of the law that does not allow out-of-province consumers to receive direct shipments of wine in limited quantities has expired.
Recently, Okanagan Coquihalla MP Dan Albas introduced a private member’s bill (Bill C-311) to allow personal exemption from the 1928 law under the importation of intoxicating liquors act. Dix said this builds on the work done by Kelowna Lake County MP Ron Cannan on the same issue.
“We are advocating for an industry that employs a lot of people, that has a huge value and is a cultural symbol here in the Okanagan and a lot of other regions as well,” said Dix, who was in the South Okanagan on Tuesday.
Dix said on Tuesday that if Ontario would jump on board to support personal exemption, everything would fall into place for the law to change. He points a finger of partial blame at the Ontario Liquor Board.
“There seems to be a misplaced apprehension on the part of the Ontario Liquor Board that allowing consumers to make limited online orders will have a negative impact on the province’s revenue,” he said.
In his letter to the Ontario provincial government, Dix said both B.C. and Ontario small vineyards produce only a few thousand bottles annually. Based on information gleaned from the sales of wine from Canada to the U.S. — which does not break any laws — Dix said at most the Ontario Liquor Board could experience a one to two per cent drop in revenue. He added the loss would be more than offset by gains in agriculture and tourism.
Dix said wine industries in both provinces attract an increasing number of visitors and attention from wine experts who have a national and international audience that could benefit from online sales. The Ontario Liquor Board recently relaxed regulations so Ontario residents could return with a case of B.C. vintage, however, the new rule does not remove restrictions on direct to consumer shipments of wine intended for personal enjoyment.
“I think we need to, across the country, say those kind of barriers are really antiquated. It’s all right for the big guys because they can get their product to market and they do — you see it in the liquor stores across the country — but for small wineries this is a huge possibility for them to expand their market,” said Dix.
Albas previously told the Western News that through his research he found that no one has ever been charged or fined under the importation of intoxicating liquors act. 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.