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(Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail)
(Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail)

Liquor Laws

Oenophiles cheer as wine-transport bill gets broad support Add to ...

A rookie MP from British Columbia’s wine country appears to have convinced the House of Commons to strike down a law that prevents Canadians from buying wine in one province and taking or shipping it to another province for their own consumption.

A bill by Dan Albas, the backbench Conservative MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, that would end the inter-provincial barriers governing the wine trade entered the last rounds of debate in the Commons on Monday and received broad support. The date of the final vote has yet to be determined.

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Private member’s bills rarely make it this far. But politicians of all stripes rose to echo Mr. Albas’s argument that an 80-year-old wrong needs to be made right.

It is an issue that he says he has been hearing about from his constituents – and from wine growers and lovers across Canada – since the election campaign that brought him to Ottawa for the first time last year.

“Every single winery owner that I have spoken with supports this legislation,” Mr. Albas said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, “especially the small family wineries whose production is so low that they can’t sell through the liquor control monopoly.”

As it stands, anyone who wants to send wine from one province to another for his own consumption must route it through a provincial or territorial liquor control board and must pay the associated taxes and markups.

If a tourist from Saskatchewan visits a winery in Ontario and likes what she is tasting, she is not legally permitted to take it home with her or mail a few bottles to herself. In fact, she could be thrown in prison for up to three months for doing so.

On the other hand, a tourist from Texas could visit the same winery and send crates of the stuff back to his home in Austin.

It’s a law that dates back to the prohibition and one that is regularly flouted by Canadians – if they even know it exists. But it has been a headache for the many small wineries that are cropping up in large numbers in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and B.C.

Mr. Albas said he hopes his bill will increase the consumption of top quality Canadians wines. Nearly 70 per cent of the wine purchased in Canada is imported from outside the country.

“So if we can get wineries to increase their production through increased sales, that’s going to mean more jobs, more opportunities,” said Mr. Albas, who pointed out that there are many of spin-off industries that will benefit, including tourism, transportation, and barrel makers.

Allison Markin is a B.C. marketing consultant who saw the absurdity of the fact that she was breaking the law every time she brought back wine from Ontario’s Niagara region. She started a website called FreeMyGrapes.ca that pushed for changes to the law and applauded Mr. Albas’s initiative.

“How ridiculous is it that I can’t go to Ontario and buy B.C. wine and vice versa?” Ms. Markin asked. “There’s a lot of great wineries coming up in Nova Scotia. There’s fruit wineries in Saskatchewan. And we can’t get our own wine to other provinces without going through liquor distribution.”

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