One Year After Federal Shipping Law Reform, Prov Barriers Remain

June 28th is the one year anniversary of the unanimous passage of Bill C-311, which removed Canada's federal ban on the interprovincial shipment of wine direct to consumers (see: Canadian Wine Shipping Reform Becomes Law). The amendments created a national personal use exemption for DTC shipments subject to applicable provincial laws. I have updated my Shipping Laws Within Canada page to provide an up-to-date summary of my views regarding the legality of shipping wine to consumers in the the various provinces across Canada. Manitoba gets the gold medal for opening its borders completely. BC gets a silver medal for opening its borders partially. Unfortunately, none of the other provinces have publicly declared their support for "freeing the grapes". Instead, most are dragging their heels on reform in various ways with, in my opinion, various degrees of legal effectiveness. The award for worst behaviour has to go to Alberta ... which is stating that it is not open for DTC shipments despite the fact that its own provincial laws clearly state that it is legal (see: Alberta's Bizarre Position on Wine Shipping Law Reform). There's a good summary of the situation from the Winnipeg Free Press here: Manitoba Wine Laws Ahead of the Curve. The fight goes on ... please support FreeMyGrapes as it continues to press the provincial governments for the simple right to buy wine from other places within your own country. 

New BC Govt Commits to Liquor Law Review

Today's BC cabinet announcements by Premier Clark included commitments to modernize BC's "antiquated liquor laws" on a broad scale and with industry consultation. Suzanne Anton is the new Attorney General and Minister of Justice. Her listed responsibilities include the Liquor Distribution Branch, Liquor Licensing Branch and, in the government backgrounder, include "Begin consultations to modernize BC's liquor laws". In addition, John Yap has been appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General with his listed responsibility being labelled as "for Liquor Policy Reform". It is indicated that he will "Lead the stakeholder consultation on modernizing B.C.’s antiquated liquor laws and recommend improvements to the minister to take to Cabinet".

BC Premier's By-election is Wine Industry Riding

BC's Premier Christy Clark announced yesterday that the MLA for Kelowna Westside, Ben Stewart (whose family owns Quails Gate Winery), has stepped aside to allow the Premier to run in his riding. The by-election will be called shortly and will likely be held in early to mid-July. This decision bodes well for the BC wine industry because the Premier will then represent a wine industry riding in the Okanagan ... and wine industry issues will be at the heart of her constituency. In related news, CBC Kelowna is reporting this morning that Ben Stewart has said that he will now also lobby the Premier to modernize BC's liquor laws. 

LiquorPolicy.com - Privatization Boosts State Revenue for WA

I have decided to move liquor policy discussions to a new web site, LiquorPolicy.com, so that this site can stay focussed on legal issues related to the wine industry. The inaugural post at the new site discusses the 38% increase in government revenue that Washington state received following the privatization of its spirits distribution business: WA - Big Win on Privatization is State Revenue.

Post-Election: Opportunity for Positive Change

BC's election is now past us and the fourth consecutive BC Liberal majority government is poised to take office. Hopefully, a renewed and refreshed government will continue its efforts to modernize BC's liquor laws which gathered some steam in the past year. There is plenty of opportunity for positive reform:

Licensing. A number of good changes were made on the licensing side in the past year (including corkage, catering, movie theatres, tied house amongst others - see LCLB site and earlier articles posted here). However, there is still plenty of updating that could be done for additional improvement. Indeed, a full scale review has not been done for about 20 years and is long overdue (even the NDP promised this in their election platform). The current general manager of the LCLB is retiring at the end of June. As a result, there is an opportunity for the new government to signal that it is committed to further modernization when it appoints the new general manager. I'm hopeful that the new appointee will have plenty of familiarity and experience with the hospitality industry which is directly affected by liquor policy issues and will also have legal/regulatory experience beyond law enforcement. It seems to me that it is time for the LCLB to move beyond its post-prohibition regulatory model and move into the modern world. Let's hope that the new government agrees.

Wholesale Distribution. The "Distribution of Liquor Project" (which would have changed the wholesale distribution system for liquor within BC) was cancelled a while back. However, the government has indicated that it needs a new liquor distribution warehouse and may sell off the old one. Nevertheless, even within the existing system, there are ample opportunities to create efficiency and to make economically positive improvements. Let's hope the new government takes a good look at the existing decades old system and commits itself to modernization that will provide service benefits to the entire hospitality and tourism sector.

Licensees and Consumers. There are many problems with the current system which affect the various categories of licensees (e.g. retailers, restaurants, hotels, bars, wineries) in different ways. Many of these problems also end up having adverse effects on consumers particularly through reduced selection, higher end prices and a lack of competition. These problems could also be resolved by a consultative process aimed at overall modernization.

It seems to me that the continuation of liquor law modernization would be a positive populist move for our new government. The liquor modernization initiatives in the past year were, for the most part, welcomed warmly by both the industry and the public. Further modernization would certainly provide lasting economic and employment benefits for the entire tourism and hospitality sector. 

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