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Stop the Hypocrisy: Liquor Boards Should Support Bill C-311

Bill C-311, which is the Bill that would amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, to permit the inter-provincial shipment of wine direct to consumers in limited circumstances (see earlier stories: Wine Shipping Law Reform Progress in Ottawa and Reform Process for Wine Shipping Law Begins) is progressing well at the federal level in Ottawa. The Bill received unanimous all-party support at a vote in the House of Commons Finance Committee and has also received widespread support from the public and the media. However, the Bill only has the support of a single provincial liquor board: the BC LDB. The lack of support at the provincial level is frustrating because the Bill is a very reasonable compromise aimed at modifying, in a limited way, an arcane 1928 law which prevents the free trade of wine within Canada. In most countries in the world, this problem would be inconceivable (can you imagine the French putting up with a law that prevented the shipment of wine from Bordeaux to Paris?). Even within Canada, the restrictions imposed by the law are viewed, at best, as outdated and are likely unconstitutional (see Shipping Law is Unconstitutional?).

One would hope that the other Canadian liquor boards would come around and accept the fact that the Canadian public wants this change. Indeed, the liquor boards should support this reform, if only to temper the hypocrisy of their own actions. For example, during a strike at the SAQ (Quebec\’s liquor board), the LCBO proudly trumpeted the growth of its own inter-provincial sales, which were illegal as soon as the customer drove across the border (see Tear Down Interprovincial Barriers to Wine and You Get My Vote). The SAQ too should not throw stones from the comfort of its glass house. About a year ago, and using the security and wealth of its monopoly government status, it purchased control of a leading U.S. online retailer J.J. Buckley in San Francisco … which specializes in, wait for it … the inter-state sale and shipment of wine to the American market (see La SAQ prend pied aux Etats-Unis and part 26 of the SAQ annual report). Is the SAQ happy to promote and profit from the direct to consumer market in the U.S. but would deny similar advantages to its Quebec customers from which it obtains its life blood?

And most recently, at the House of Commons Finance Committee hearings, the liquor boards collectively told Members of Parliament that the changes in the Bill were not needed because most liquor boards had changed their own policies so as to permit wine (and some other liquor) to be personally transported (but not shipped) between provinces in limited amounts. This last assertion catapults the debate into the realm of fantasy since some of these very same liquor boards were denying the legality of such actions until Terry David Mulligan made his now infamous cross-border run. In addition, and significantly, their assertion stretches the bounds of legal reality to unheard of levels: it is simply beyond the constitutional jurisdiction of a provincial liquor board to over-ride a federal criminal law using a \”policy announcement\” (see Rule of Law Missed by Liquor Boards on Shipping Issue).

Finally, perhaps the Premiers should consider reigning in the liquor boards on this issue … it was recently reported that Dalton McGuinty (and other Premiers) may have violated the federal law by accepting gifts of BC wine while at a conference in Victoria and then taking them home (see Bootlegging Premiers Should Support Shipping Law Fix). Do our provincial leaders really want to be sending a message to their electorate that it is okay for them to break an arcane federal law on dubious grounds but then permit their own liquor boards to try and stop Canadians from doing something as innocuous as ordering wine from a neighbouring province?

In my view, this is a no-brainer. Provincial liquor boards should be supporting this inherently reasonable compromise and, if they drag their feet, then the various Premiers should pull rank and demand that they do so. If you agree, please contact your provincial MLAs or MPPs and tell them that you feel the same way: this Free My Grapes Take Action Page makes it easy to do so. 

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