Many people have been asking me about progress on wine law reform efforts. Here's a quick summary of where things stand.

Inter-provincial Wine Shipping Laws. A great deal of media attention was focused on this issue as a result of Terry David Mulligan's action a few weeks ago. If you haven't heard, Terry crossed the border without incident with his case of wine. In the run-up to the event, I have never seen so much attention paid to the shipping issue which is a good thing. There appears to have been minor progress in terms of some provinces, including BC, now recognizing that there is a problem. However, most provinces are still not supportive of attempts to introduce a national personal use exemption. The people in Ottawa who are pushing for reform, including Kelowna MP Ron Cannan, have indicated that they will continue to push forward. Basically, it is now a question of whether there is sufficient political will at the federal level to implement change in the face of provincial intransigence. Wineries need to help with this by directing consumers and the public to the FreeMyGrapes.ca web site where they can express support and contact their federal MPs and provincial MLAs.

Liquor Distribution Reform. This is the issue that consumers get most excited about. As noted in an earlier post, there has been some progress in Manitoba (of all places since they have no wine industry) where the government has announced that they will start selling beer and wine in grocery stores (albeit under liquor board control). I'm not in favour of the way this is being done but at least they are considering the issues with consumers in mind. Ontario's position appears to be that there will not be much change: see this article "Ontario Not Getting Corner Store Beer and Wine". Here in BC, we have seen no progress, although perhaps that's because the government is consumed with bigger problems (such as the HST, see below).

Taxes. Alberta remains the only Canadian jurisdiction with a flat tax system on wine which, in my view, is the sensible approach if you want to guarantee provincial government revenue while also encouraging selection and value for the consumer. Unfortunately, BC's system is almost the exact opposite - a crazily complicated formula which discourages almost all efficiencies. Our taxes and markups on wine remain some of the highest in the world and prices are consequently ridiculous which creates a drag on our important hospitality and tourism industries. Hopefully, once the government gets past the HST referendum, they will start taking a broader look at how inefficient our liquor pricing system is. In terms of the HST, I personally hope that it is retained following the referendum as I believe that it is sensible long term tax policy (and for the wine industry it is certainly preferable to the old GST/PST system).

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