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Proposed changes to wine law back on table in Ottawa

Wine gets political again in B.C.

Globe files/Globe files

The Prohibition Era in Canada could finally come to an end in June.

After a setback this week in Parliament, when federal New Democratic Party MPs bungled passage of a private member's bill that aims to dismantle trade restrictions on Canadian wines, Conservative MP Dan Albas said Wednesday his proposed law is back on track and could be headed to the Senate by next week.

Embarrassed New Democrats said they simply made a mistake by debating the bill on Tuesday night past the procedural point of no return.

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Through their lengthy commentary on the merits of the bill, New Democrats imperilled its passage in the current session of Parliament. That would mean Canadian vintners would have another season under the thumb of the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, an 84-year-old law that restricts transport of wine across provincial borders.

After some scrambling, Mr. Albas secured a deal on Wednesday to get Bill C-311 back before Parliament on June 6, and he is hoping it will make it through the Senate before tourism season gets under way.

"So when people come to B.C. this summer," the Okanagan-Coquihalla MP said, "it will no longer be a punishable offence for a wine lover to take a bottle of wine home with them."

Mr. Albas' proposed legislation has all-party support and it was championed by B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix. Mr. Dix contacted federal NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen to express his concern, and Mr. Cullen later offered his apologies for his handling of the bill.

"In terms of what happened in the House, mea culpa," Mr. Cullen said in an interview. "Two critics missed each other in the hallways, one had made a commitment to pass it through and the other didn't realize that so the clock got talked out."

Mr. Cullen said his party does support the bill. "New Democrats enjoy a glass of wine as much as anybody on the Hill," he said.

Mr. Cullen quickly offered to stand down on a private member's bill from his own side in order to create a new slot for Bill C-311 in the current session, but Mr. Albas instead accepted a similar offer from Liberal MP Scott Brison.

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"I'm really pleased to see Scott has opened up his time and I'm very happy to see the NDP recognize that they made a gross error," Mr. Albas said.

Miles Prodan, executive director of the B.C. Wine Institute, said this is just the first stage of the changes that are needed. "What needs to happen now is to have the provinces come to the table and agree to a meaningful amount of wine to transport for personal use," he said.

The federal bill would simply remove national restrictions on transporting wine between provinces. Each provincial government would then establish its own limits on cross-border shopping. Even in B.C., with its burgeoning wine industry, the province has not put in place changes to take advantage of the new legislative landscape, once the Intoxicating Liquors Act is gutted.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark said her province, home to over 200 wineries, will eliminate its restrictions on imports of other Canadian wines once the Albas bill becomes law. But that won't help B.C. wineries unless other provinces reciprocate.

"I think there is a big appetite for that, I'm guessing, among the three westernmost provinces," Ms. Clark told reporters Wednesday. "I can tell you I'm in favour of free trade on wine."

Jobs Minister Pat Bell, who stood in for Ms. Clark at this week's meeting of Western premiers, said the issue of opening up markets for B.C. wines was raised "primarily because Saskatchewan and Alberta premiers both love B.C. wine and would like to be able to get more of it."

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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