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2012: The Year of Wine Law Reform?

Is it too much to hope that 2012 could finally be a year when some of BC\’s (and Canada\’s) outdated wine laws get reformed? Here are my picks for the top three issues that need modernization.

1. Wine Shipping Laws. On this issue, there has never been so much progress and good will. Bill C-311 was introduced into the House of Commons in 2011 to reform Canada\’s archaic 1928 federal prohibition on the transport of wine across provincial borders. The Bill has now passed second reading and is headed for the House of Commons Finance Committee for consideration. If it passes on third reading, hopefully sometime in the spring, it will create a national personal use exemption so that Canadians can direct order wine from other provinces in limited quantities for personal consumption. The Bill has received cross-party support as well as kudos from the public and media including today\’s Globe and Mail editorial: Let the Wine Flow.

2. Wholesale Pricing and Distribution. Vancouver food and wine writer, Tim Pawsey, nails a huge economic problem for BC when he describes problems related to both distribution and pricing in our outdated liquor wholesale system in this article: A Few Potable Predictions for 2012. The distribution absurdity is obvious when artisan spirits produced on Hornby Island have to make six ferry trips and travel almost 200 kilometres (nearly 400 round trip according to Google Maps) in order to be sold at the Hornby Island General Store, which is located about 300-500 metres from the distillery (according to Google Maps, about 3 km by road). Why? Because all spirits produced in BC are distributed by the monopoly BC Liquor Distribution Branch, which mandates that the product be routed through its wholesale distribution warehouse, located in Vancouver. As Tim points out, BC\’s wholesale liquor pricing system also needs to be fixed by introducing a normal wholesale pricing structure for wine and liquor. The current BC system \”works backwards\” from government mandated retail prices, effectively removing competition and putting most restaurants and private stores at a huge disadvantage by denying them proper wholesale prices (restaurants get ZERO discount off government retail, private stores mostly get 16% off). Wine consumers should care about this because it means that you will pay about $20 or more at retail and probably about $40 in a restaurant for a wine that wholesales for about $7: see these LDB markup calculators for the details.

3. End the Prohibition Era Mentality on Licensing. BC\’s liquor licensing laws received large amounts of negative press in 2011, mostly because they have not been properly updated for decades and because they still incorporate a prohibition era mentality in terms of enforcement. The problems are too many to exhaustively list but they include: hopelessly outdated restrictions on festival events (Whistler Jazz Fest denied a liquor license), no happy hours, no corkage in restaurants, caterers that can\’t pick up liquor, no alcohol in movie theatres, and many arcane rules that favour government liquor stores over private ones. See this article – BC\’s Five Looniest Liquor Laws for more info.

BC is already a fabulous food and wine destination … but to continue with that progress, we need to make sure that government policy encourages food and wine culture. My wish for 2012 is that government will wake up to the fact that our
outdated and archaic regulatory and distribution system is preventing the continued growth of our food and wine industries … and stifling
economic activity and job growth in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Happy New Year!

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