On June 28, supporters of the grassroots FreeMyGrapes campaign from across Canada had planned to open commemorative bottles of Canadian wine to mark the one-year anniversary of Bill C-311. This federal legislation had rectified an 84-four year old, prohibition-era law that made it a criminal offence for Canadians to carry or ship wine across provincial borders.
We planned to celebrate that our government listened to the 82 per cent of Canadians who believe you should be able to order wine from an out-of-province winery via the Internet. We were going to celebrate that Canadian wine producers, largely small, rural, family owned businesses, had gained better and direct access to a larger base of Canadian consumers – essential to their ability to compete against their much larger global competitors. We’d planned to celebrate that Canadian wineries are producing world-class wines that we now all have easy access to. And we planned to celebrate that our government’s liquor policy finally moved into the Internet era.
Unfortunately, the corks are still in the bottle.
It’s still not legal for most Canadians to ship wine across provincial borders. While some people may do it, they are risking high penalties, including major fines and even jail time.
Next week, you’ll be meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Council of the Federation. I’m certain you will be enjoying wonderful Ontario wines – but even you won’t be able to legally ship any of them home. There are exceptions here though, as Premiers Christy Clark (British Columbia) and Greg Selinger (Manitoba), have permitted direct delivery of Canadian wine into their provinces (so please take advantage of this, as you’ve earned it). Premier Wynne, you are also able to ship wine to your home in Ontario, as shipping within the province is legal. Now how ridiculous is this situation? Confusing, isn’t it.
You may have been told that your provincial policy has been updated to allow citizens to physically bring one case across a provincial border for personal use. Just a little bit of thought reveals this is not the solution. Our wine producing regions are far apart, so it’s not realistic to expect someone from Ontario to drive to Nova Scotia to purchase a case of wine. And the private order service at the liquor store is not the answer, as it’s very costly, the response time is lengthy, it doesn’t permit for participation in wine clubs, and it requires a minimum of one full case of the same wine.
With more than 500 wineries in Canada, most too small to enter into the liquor board stores (like the LCBO), you’ve likely only ever had the opportunity to try wines from a handful of Canadian wineries outside your province. And if you only shop at your local liquor store, more than likely you’re going to choose an imported wine, because there are more to choose from.
Updating your legislation to reflect the spirit of Bill C-311 is good for all Canadian wineries, tourism and the Canadian economy. Counter to what you’ve been told by those protecting their turf, it won’t take away from your liquor board profits either, as 40 U.S. states, B.C. and Manitoba can attest to.
Premiers, now is the time, while in Niagara’s beautiful wine country, to collectively commit to allow Canadian wine to be ordered by any adult in Canada and shipped to their home, regardless of their home province. It’s time we celebrated Canadian wines instead of undermining them.
Shirley-Ann George is president of FreeMyGrapes.ca