Wine bill passes Senate

Bill C-311 has cleared another hurdle, but it’s causing more debate as its implications are debated in the Okanagan and beyond

The wine bill just cleared  the Senate on Monday, but it’s already causing more debate as its implications are debated by provinces and other stakeholders.

“Some jurisdictions, including Alberta, Ontario and B.C., are entertaining their own strictures,” said Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas, who authored the private member’s bill, which is expected to receive Royal assent later this month.

Some stakeholders are already claiming that Bill C-311, which amends the 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, doesn’t address direct sales, only people carrying wine across borders. Even in B.C., where the provincial government was an early supporter of the move to eliminate the Prohibition-era law, lawmakers were quick to point out there would still be taxes to pay.

On June 7, the  B.C. government instituted changes to provincial regulations, allowing a tax exemption on the importation of a limited amount of alcohol. There was no mention in the release of online shopping and shipping, other than a bullet point reading “No Canadian jurisdiction allows tax-free shipping of alcohol across their borders for personal consumption.”

“Contrary to some public reports, Bill C-311 does not allow for the direct sale of liquor,” said Rich Coleman, B.C. minister of energy and mines in a later release.  “To allow this to happen, we need the co-operation and support of other provinces because Bill C-311 simply clarifies a province’s right to set limits to the quantity that can be imported and in what manner.”

The bill is clear, however, in that it frees up people to either bring wine across provincial borders, or cause it to be brought, which would include online sales. But, Albas agreed, it doesn’t prevent provinces from establishing their own regulations.

What the bill does is remove the federal government from the equation, removing an oppressive Prohibition-era law. When it passes, said Albas, it will be up to the individual provinces to determine how they will deal with interprovincial wine sales.

“I hope they will recognize the spirit and intent of the bill,” said Albas, adding that the bill is intended to support the Canadian wine industry, which, in turn, means more investment and jobs.

Sixty-eight per cent of the market is served by foreign wines, he said, even though Canada and the Okanagan produce some of the best wines.

The progress of the bill is almost unheard of for a private member’s bill, most of which fail. And for a private member’s bill from a rookie MP to be passed by Parliament with unanimous support is unheard of. Albas, who was just elected as the Okanagan-Coquihalla MP in 2011, is surprisingly modest about the accomplishment of getting a private member’s bill passed in his first year in office.

The progress of the bill, he said, simply shows that the system works, that an MP can take local concerns to Parliament and effect change.

“To me, it’s a great experience,” he said. “My colleagues have been supportive and I have learned a lot in the process.

“I take nothing for granted. There were several times I thought the bill was dead. It’s about making reasonable arguments and building consensus. Everyone wants the wine industry to succeed.”