- Monday, 10 September 2012 08:24
- Written by Mark Hicken
Bill C-311 ushered in a new era of Canadian wine shipping law on June 28th, just over 2 months ago. I have just updated my earlier article "Shipping Laws on Wine Within Canada" to provide a summary of developments to date and to include a chart showing my interpretation of the state of DTC wine shipping throughout the country (there are differing interpretations on this to which I have provided links in the article). Here's the short summary of some remarkable progress in a short period of time:
- Both Alberta and Manitoba had pre-existing provincial laws that permitted the interprovincial importation of wine for their residents when Bill C-311 came into effect. As a result, these provinces have been open for both winery and retailer DTC shipments since June 28th. Note: I am aware that CALJ and AGLC have been making statements that Alberta is not open for shipment, only for "personal importation". In my view, this is not a reasonable interpretation of existing Alberta law.
- Ontario's laws are silent on the interprovincial importation of wine. It is my view that this results in Ontario being open for both winery and retailer DTC shipments on the basis of the legal principle "that which is not prohibited is permitted". The LCBO has issued a contrary "policy statement" which, in my view, has no legal authority.
- British Columbia has amended its laws to permit the possession of unlimited quantities of wine imported from other provinces but only if the wine is 100% Canadian wine purchased direct from a winery. So BC is open for winery DTC shipments but not for retailer shipments.
- Nova Scotia announced last week that its government would change its laws sometime "this fall" to permit DTC shipments. It is not clear yet whether that includes both winery and retailer shipments.
- Wednesday, 05 September 2012 15:35
- Written by Mark Hicken
The Nova Scotia government has announced that it will make legislative or regulatory changes sometime "this fall" that will follow the spirit of Bill C-311 and permit direct to consumer shipments of wine from other provinces to Nova Scotia wine consumers (see: Nova Scotia to Taste Wine Freedom). There are differing views of which provinces currently permit DTC shipments: see the FreeMyGrapes site for more information which includes my analysis. However, in summary, it is my view that DTC shipments are currently permitted by the laws of British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. If Nova Scotia acts, then 5 out of 10 provinces will be open for DTC shipping which is tremendous progress given that Bill C-311 was only passed in June of this year.
- Tuesday, 04 September 2012 13:37
- Written by Mark Hicken
An Ontario Conservative MPP, Rob Milligan, has introduced Private Members' Bill 117, which is intended to clear up confusion in that province and clearly permit Ontario residents to import wine from other provinces in amounts for personal consumption (see story from the Northumberland View). The Bill is designed to address the uncertainty in Ontario following the passage of Bill C-311 at the federal level. Bill C-311 essentially "passed the buck" on wine shipping law to the provinces but Ontario currently has no statutory or regulatory provisions that deal with the inter-provincial importation of wine. Some analysts, like myself, have argued that Ontario is open to shipping because of the legal principle "that which is not prohibited is permitted" (see analysis at FreeMyGrapes.ca). However, the LCBO has issued a policy statement to the contrary indicating that it will not permit interprovincial importation of wine unless it is done "in-person" (i.e. no shipments from wineries). Bill 117 introduces a nice touch on this issue as it specifically removes all of the LCBO's powers in respect of any wine imported into Ontario from another province for personal consumption. Bill 117 is a private member's bill ... such bills rarely become law. However, the federal Bill C-311 was also a private member's bill ... and it passed with unanimous all party support.
- Tuesday, 31 July 2012 14:03
- Written by Mark Hicken
New Allergen labelling rules for wine in Canada become effective on August 4th, this Saturday. Bottled wine with a vintage date of 2012 or later and all wine packaged without a vintage date must now make declarations on the label in certain conditions:
- If the wine contains sulfites in an amount greater than 10 ppm, this must be declared on the label either in the ingredients or a "contains ..." statement.
- If the wine contains any significant amount of residual protein from the use of eggs (ovalbumin), fish (isinglass) or milk (casein) products as a fining agent, then this must be declared on the label either in the ingredients or a "contains ..." statement. This requirement could be important for wine that is unfiltered.
- Tuesday, 24 July 2012 17:58
- Written by Mark Hicken
I have been trying hard not to write about the BC Government's liquor privatization project because it's summer and I would rather enjoy a glass of wine in the sun. Unfortunately, whenever I turn on the radio, a politician seems to be on explaining why the project is either a disaster or a great idea. Sadly, and in my view, much of the commentary (from both sides) seems to miss many of the relevant points. So here is a short primer on BC Liquor Economics for those poor souls who are not out in the sun ...
Wholesale Distribution System. Opponents of the privatization project have been saying that the government has presented "no business case" for privatizing the wholesale level of the system. Instead, they seem to want to keep things exactly the way they are. The reality is that the BC liquor distribution system is inefficient and archaic. It is an outdated system that was largely designed to address the problems of the post-prohibition era. Today, it is an unaccountable bureaucracy that shields itself from a modern retail and wholesale world where the norms are fair competition, reasonable pricing and e-commerce. If you want some stories from the trenches on this issue, please read these articles: Rod Phillips on Private Liquor Stores vs. Public Liquor Stores in BC and Ralf Joneikes on All Importers, Restauranteurs Have Tales of Liquor Board Foulups. If British Columbia wants to encourage a normal food and wine culture replete with economic growth and jobs, it is not an option to keep the system the way it is. Unfortunately, and as I have written earlier (Privatization and BC Wine Pricing), the government's proposals for reform are limited and it is still unclear whether they will address the underlying problems in the system. Consequently, in my opinion, there is absolutely no doubt that there is a massive and undeniable "business case" for broad reform. What is not clear yet is whether the government's privatization project is the right set of reforms.
Privatization: Loss of Revenue? Some opponents of the privatization project have been saying that government should not privatize because the BCLDB is a reliable source of revenue for the government and that we should not be selling a "government asset" that produces revenue. This is absolute bunk. Let me explain why. Governments make all of their liquor revenue from imposing “liquor board markup” on all products at the wholesale level. These markups are hidden taxes. They apply regardless of whether the product is sold in government liquor stores, private retailers or bars/restaurants ... so the government will get its money no matter what (and already does so because about 60% of liquor in BC is already sold by the private sector). It does not matter if the government privatizes the wholesale business and/or the entire retail business, it will still get all of its liquor revenue through taxation. The only "asset" that is producing this revenue is the government's ability to charge taxes on liquor and this will continue regardless of what they do to the system. In fact, the costs of running the wholesale and retail arms of the BCLDB are actually a drag on government revenue. The Government raises about $1.2 billion annually from liquor board markups ... but it costs them $300 million to run the BCLDB so their net annual revenue is reduced to about $900 million. It is really nothing but an expensive tax collection system ... if they eliminated the costs of running the BCLDB, they could certainly make more money.
Give Us Better Retail and Wholesale Pricing. Voters and consumers are tired of government liquor distribution systems which restrict selection and which fix prices at ridiculously high levels. In BC, any meaningful reform of the system needs to fix our arcane wholesale and retail pricing structure so that competition is restored, prices moderated, and selection increased. Critics of privatization have pointed to high prices in BC's private liquor stores as evidence that privatization is not a good idea. They have also pointed to the fact that prices have gone up for spirits in Washington state after their recent privatization. But these observations are wrong since they ignore the reasons behind the pricing problems. In BC, the reason that prices are usually higher in private stores than in government stores is because the BCLDB controls all prices by denying normal wholesale discounts to the private stores so that they have no margin to work with. If we had a proper wholesale pricing structure with a level playing field for all businesses - and with competition, I can guarantee you that prices would be much lower in private stores. In Washington state, prices went up because new fees/taxes were imposed at the same time as privatization. The new taxes were designed to increase Washington's revenue from spirits sales by 50%. If you raise taxes, prices will go up ... and it is actually a testament to the benefits of privatization that they have not gone up very much in Washington. In this regard, I am puzzled as to why the BC government continues to assert that it will "continue to control liquor prices" as part of the privatization project ... and that those prices "will stay the same". That is not an attractive position for voters and consumers. From the average voter's perspective, the entire exercise is a waste of time if the issues of pricing and selection are not addressed. The government should be putting forward reforms that will reduce prices toward global levels and that will increase selection. Anything less provides no benefits to consumers and voters.