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Reform Process for Wine Shipping Law Begins

Here is a link to Bill C-311, the Bill that, if passed, will amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act so as to create a national personal use exemption which would permit the shipment of wine between provinces direct to consumers. The amendment to IILA would add an additional exemption in s.3(2) of the Act so that the prohibition on inter-provincial shipment would not apply in the following circumstances:

the importation of wine from a province by an individual, if the individual brings the wine or causes it to be brought into another province, in quantities and as permitted by the laws of the latter province, for his or her personal consumption, and not for resale or other commercial use.

Here’s a short analysis of the effect of Bill C-311, if it is passed. What does Bill C-311 do?

  • Creates an exemption from the interprovincial ban on shipping alcohol across provincial borders in limited circumstances, as described below.
  • The exemption would apply to wine only, both domestic and imported (this is necessary in order to comply with Canada’s trade agreement obligations and desirable for consumers) and only in amounts for personal consumption.
  • The exemption would apply to BOTH wine that is personally transported across a provincial border with an individual AND wine that is shipped at the request of an individual across a provincial border.
  • The destination province is given the ability to further define reasonable amounts for personal consumption and potentially set other requirements so long as they do so through law.

It’s my strong belief that this is a reasonable compromise measure that should be supported by all aspects of the wine industry (see Dan Albas\’ sensible explanation here). Some have called for the complete abolition of the IILA and, personally, I would not be sad to see it gone but such a step would create dramatic changes that most provinces would oppose. The approach taken by this Bill is much less disruptive but it is significant enough that it will provide immediate benefit for Canadian wineries and consumers in a small segment of the retail wine market, specifically, those consumers who are looking for hard to find products that are unavailable locally.

The benefits of this Bill, if it is passed, are:

  • Consumers will be able to order wine from wineries in other provinces and have it direct shipped so long as the amounts are for personal consumption.
  • Consumers will be able to order hard to find wines from retailers (including liquor boards) in other provinces so long as the amounts are for personal consumption.
  • Consumers will be able to return from vacations in other provinces with wine without breaking the law.

The above changes are sensible because they re-establish Canada as a free trade zone for wine (which is supposed to be guaranteed by the Constitution anyway) and they provide consumers with a greater selection of wines to purchase within the country. This Bill will not appreciably affect the revenue that the provinces generate from liquor sales. The vast majority (well over 90%) of retail wine is consumed within a few hours of purchase. This Bill will not affect those sales at all because those consumers will not wait for the delivery of their wine or pay for shipping (usually at least $2-3 a bottle). In the U.S., which has had a similar system for many years, the experience has been that interstate (or interprovincial) shipment will only comprise about 1% of the total retail wine market. This Bill deserves our support and I encourage readers to go to where they can ask their MP to vote for it and ask their MLA/MPP to also provide support.

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