Premier Christy Clark is voicing support for a private member's bill from a B.C. MP that would amend a federal liquor law restricting cross-border wine shipments, calling it a "common sense" issue in need of a solution.
"I think Dan Albas is doing a great job," Ms. Clark said in response to a reporter's question about whether she supports the liquor-law changes Mr. Albas, MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, is seeking.
"He does a great job representing his constituents here in the Okanagan. And I think it makes common sense to make it possible for B.C. wine producers to be able to sell wine to individuals across provincial boundaries."
Mr. Albas's bill, introduced in October, concerns the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act of 1928, that makes it illegal to ship alcohol across provincial boundaries without going through the receiving province's liquor board.
The bill proposes a personal exemption that would allow, for example, a B.C. resident to buy wine from a Niagara winery or an Okanagan winery to ship to wine clubs in other provinces.
The private member's bill has gone through two readings and is now headed for committee review, backed by supporters including the B.C. Wine Institute. It notes the law as written prohibits someone from coming into the Okanagan, buying some wine and taking it home – in the process, pinching winery revenues and a fledgling wine-tourism sector.
The IILA is federal legislation. Asked what she could do to encourage fixes to the law, Ms. Clark said she could ensure that the province "is covering all the angles as quickly as we can."
"The interprovincial trade issue is federal jurisdiction," said Mark Hicken, a Vancouver lawyer who deals extensively with alcohol-related legal issues and writes a wine-law blog. "That's the specific issue that has to be fixed. Because no matter what the provinces do, if they don't fix that federal law, there's still a cloud hanging over any the legality of any interprovincial shipments."
Any changes to liquor legislation would have to be weighed against potential hits to government revenue, Ms. Clark said.
"I mean, look, we've got a pretty tough economy out there, we have an obligation to be careful about the decisions we make so we don't imperil creation of jobs in our province in what are pretty tough times," she said.
Amending the prohibition-era law to allow personal exemptions could theoretically reduce the revenue going to provincial liquor boards. But experience in other jurisdictions suggests that loss would be relatively small, because the direct-to-consumer portion of the wine market represents a small, high-value segment of the overall wine retail market, Mr. Hicken said.
The amendments proposed in Mr. Albas's bill would make it possible for wineries to ship to wine clubs in other provinces, Tinhorn Creek winemaker and owner Sandra Oldfield said on Monday. Currently, such sales are restricted to B.C.
"I'm happy if the private member's bill goes through and any provincial support we get is great," Ms. Oldfield said.
In the United States, where regulations governing interstate shipments of wine have been loosened and reformed over the past decade or so, the direct-to-consumer segment makes up only about 1 per cent of the overall retail market.
"I don't think it would be much different in Canada," Mr. Hicken said, adding that the vast majority of wine purchases are made for immediate consumption and the direct-to-consumer market represents a much smaller, pricier product.