Okanagan wineries anxiously await changes to regulations

Bill striking down Prohibition-era regulations on the shipment of wine expected to receive Royal assent on Thursday

Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards is wondering what she should do with the 12-gauge shotgun she ordered from Saskatchewan. She’s thinking, maybe a vase.

Oldfield had the shotgun shipped to B.C. to demonstrate that it was legal to have a firearm shipped, but to do the same with wine was a prosecutable offence.

When Bill C-311, the “wine law,” receives Royal assent on Thursday, it will strike down the 1928 Prohibition-era regulations forbidding the shipping of wine between provinces. But far from opening the floodgates to wine shipping freely from province to province, it has started a round of provincial authorities evaluating new regulations to control and tax that flow.

That includes a special commission in Ontario tasked with evaluating that province’s regulations, as well as new regulations introduced in B.C. on June 7.

“I see Ontario looking at this as a good sign,” said Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas, who has shepherded the bill through the House and Senate. After spending the weekend back in his riding, he returned to Ottawa Tuesday to be present for the Royal assent.

But his summer plans include spending time encouraging his provincial counterparts to see the possibilities in increased trade in wines between provinces, both for the economic boost from the sales, but also for the boost to jobs as wineries grow. Ultimately, he said, more trade in wines is good for the provinces.

That includes e-commerce, which B.C. minister Rich Coleman has specifically said is not on the table, though Bill C-311 opens the door to it.

Oldfield is optimistic that the province is just working on details, wanting to make sure they have everything in order before announcing new regulations.

“I have hopes that they will follow not just the spirit, but the letter of the law,” said Oldfield, pointing out that the bill includes a provision for a purchaser to not only buy wine in person, but to cause wine to be brought across provincial borders, as she did with her shotgun.

“E-commerce is a tremendous opportunity,” said Albas. “But every province has to come to its own consensus on how to handle it.”

Albas’ attitude will come as good news to winery owners, like John Skinner of Painted Rock, who was dumbfounded by the restrictive approach taken by the B.C. government.

“I think there is some work for the provinces to do in engaging the other provinces to address the whole issue of selling to one another and enabling the free trade of wine, as is the spirit of Bill C-311. It should allow for internet sales, it should allow for free and easy commerce amongst Canadians,” said Skinner. “Frankly, it was so obvious that the spirit of the bill was to simplify the sale and transfer of wine amongst wineries and Canadians.”

The fact they adopted that policy was ill advised and showed inattentiveness on the part of the provincial government, according to Skinner, who thinks the public backlash is encouraging B.C. to re-evaluate.

“Coleman has indicated recently that they are working with other provinces to try to remedy the situation,” he said. “I know that they are actively consulting with people in our community and I am very hopeful they get it. Really, the attitude at the beginning was just shockingly out of step, and now I am hopeful they realize how necessary this is and there was a  massive misstep.

“We are in the information age, e-commerce is something we will all have to get used to, so we should accommodate for it, accept it and press on.”