Alberta Attempts to Reverse Shipping Law Progress

The Alberta government has moved to reverse the recent progress on direct to consumer wine shipping laws in Canada by quietly amending s.89 of its Gaming and Liquor Regulation so as to create a distinction between wine shipped into Alberta from another province and wine that is personally transported back to Alberta with a traveller after a trip. Prior to the amendments, Alberta law quite clearly stated that Alberta residents could have wine shipped from other provinces in amounts for personal consumption. The Gaming and Liquor Act and Regulation specifically allowed shipment through the combined effect of section 86(3) of the Act and section 89 of the Regulation, both of which read as follows:

Act s.86(3): An adult may import into Alberta liquor of a kind and up to a quantity that is permitted under the regulations.

Regulation s.89: For the purposes of section 86(3) of the [Gaming and Liquor Act], an adult may import from another province liquor for the adult's personal use and consumption.

The new version of section 89 of the regulation changes the wording from the earlier version and makes the importation "subject to the policies of the Board". Here is the new section:

89. For the purposes of section 86(3) and (4) of the Act, an adult may import liquor purchased in a province or territory other than Alberta for personal use or consumption in Alberta subject to the policies of the Board respecting the importation of liquor.

The Alberta liquor board (AGLC) has now also issued an information sheet "Personal Importation of Liquor from Other Provinces", which while not explicitly stating that they do not permit shipment, indicates that they only permit liquor to be brought from another province if the liquor "accompanies the individual". It is not clear whether the above changes are legally effective because s.86 of the statute refers only to the "kind" and "quantity" of imported liquor being set by regulation. It does not empower the Board to make these decisions or to distinguish between types of imported liquor. In addition, there is likely a good argument that such an action would be unconstitutional in any event as it would both violate s.121 of the Constitution Act (which establishes a free trade zone for Canadian produced product as between the provinces) and infringe upon the federal government's exclusive jurisdiction over interprovincial trade. As a result, there are now some complicated legal issues as to whether the AGLC can effectively reverse the language in the Act and Regulation through the use of a policy statement. In addition, it is now theoretically easier for Alberta consumers to purchase wine and have it shipped to them from the United States than from British Columbia.

I have updated the Shipping Laws information page to reflect this unfortunate development. In my view, and regrettably, Alberta continues to act against the will of Albertans and other Canadians on this issue (see earlier article: "Alberta's bizarre position on wine shipping law reform").

BC's Tinhorn Creek Ships to 34 U.S. States

Tinhorn Creek Winery in BC's Okanagan Valley has come up with a solution that enables it to ship to 34 U.S. states in compliance with relevant state laws, using a California company, Ship at Home. See the story here: Tinhorn Creek finds way to ship to U.S. customers. Meanwhile, it is almost the second anniversary of Bill C-311, and it remains challenging for BC wineries to ship to Canadian customers because most provincial liquor boards have put up barriers to interprovincial shipping either through legislation or policy statements (see the latest analysis here: Shipping Law Update). 

Golden Mile Applies for BC's First Sub-Appellation

The BC Wine Authority has issued a press release indicating that wineries in the "Golden Mile" area of the South Okanagan have submitted the first application to create a sub-appellation (or sub-designated viticultural area) for the Golden Mile Bench area (see story including the release here). The Wine Authority will now proceed with its required process for the application which is set out in the governing legislation. There is currently no time line for approval.

BC Wine Institute Announces Governance Review

The BC Wine Institute has announced a wide ranging governance review of its operations and structure that will be carried out by an independent third party. The press release is here: BCWI Announces Governance Review. According to the announcement, major changes within the BC wine industry along with the BC government liquor policy review prompted the BCWI to launch its own review. The review will deal with "focus on all areas of the organization, including, but not limited to: internal governance; board structure; member winery representation; and membership communications strategy".

The BCWI has 138 member wineries comprising the vast bulk of production in BC (there are 235 total in BC). BCWI member wineries include both large manufacturers that produce blended wine as well as small and medium sized wineries that produce only 100% BC product. Recently, the BCWI has had to deal with issues such as inter-provincial shipping and the reforms proposed by the government's liquor policy review.

BC Liquor Law Reforms: Further Details and Timeline

On March 6th, the BC Government released further details of its ongoing reforms to BC liquor laws including more specific information on grocery store liquor sales and a timeline for 15 of the 73 reforms that are being implemented as a result of the liquor policy review. The press release is here: BC Outlines Balanced Plan for Grocery Store Liquor Sales. In addition, amendments were introduced in the legislature that will implement some of the proposed changes: Bill 15, Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act 2014.

Highlights of the changes include:

  • Two ways to sell liquor in grocery stores: the first is a "store within a store" model where alcohol will be sold in a segregated area of the grocery store with its own cashier, and the second is the ability to obtain one of a limited number of new licenses that will permit the sale of BC VQA wines on regular grocery store shelves.
  • Work continues on the definition of "grocery store". However, it will not include "convenience stores". In addition, the current moratorium on the issuance of new licenses will be maintained.
  • The 1 km distance separation rule for liquor retailers will be maintained (and expanded to include all liquor stores). The 5 km maximum relocation rule for retailers will be eliminated.
  • Significantly, the government has also announced that BC's wholesale pricing structure for liquor will be revised and that all retailers, both government and private, will pay the same wholesale price for liquor products (apparently, the current intention is that restaurants/hotels/bars will not be included in this policy). 

A timeline is set out in the press release for 15 of the liquor policy review changes which indicates that some of the announced changes will be implemented in "Spring/Summer 2014" (e.g. farmers' market sales, festival sales, happy hour, off-site storage for licensees, intra-transfer of liquor), others will be implemented in "Fall 2014" (e.g. education initiatives, serving it right changes, expansion of manufacturer sales to include additional products) and some in "Winter 2015" (e.g. grocery store liquor sales). In addition, a complete re-write of the existing licensing statute will be done and a new Act will be introduced in "spring 2015".