Open borders for smaller wineries

Like many of you, I like wine. And thanks to federal Conservative MP Dan Albas, I might be able to taste a wide variety of Canadian wines that I didn't even know existed. And you might, too.

The MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, B.C. introduced a private bill that would allow small Canadian family-run wineries to sell their bottles directly to consumers across the country. Currently, these wineries can only directly sell to customers living in the same province, or to customers outside of Canada.

When a legislative initiative is intended to help the little guy who wants to grow his business and please his customers against a greedy government monopoly, you can count me in.

Here's the situation: For most of Canada's small (usually family-run) wineries, selling through the various government liquor distribution monopolies is very challenging – and costly. Indeed, smaller wineries lack the volume and supply required of large-scale government liquor store distribution. They often have to eat into their profits in order to put their bottles on the shelves.

As a result, many small wineries have no other choice, in practice, but to sell their wine directly to customers. They can do this by offering their red, white or rose to people who visit the winery, or sell their products to restaurants, for instance. But the wine must stay in the province where this transaction is being done, which reduces the number of potential customers. (Keep this in mind when you visit a winery in B.C. or Quebec during your summer vacation: You'll technically break the law if you bring back a bottle with you!)

Does it make sense that Canadian wineries can more easily sell in Asia or Michigan, than in other Canadian markets that do not have significant wine industries such as Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba? Yet, that's what's currently happening. According to the office of MP Dan Albas, many small wineries have increasingly targeted customers in the United States, or more lucrative wine markets in Asia, for direct sales.

Who's to blame? Regulation. More specifically, the 83-year-old Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, which makes it illegal for wineries to sell directly to consumers in other provinces.

Dan Albas is proposing an amendment to this legislation. That would allow for the direct sale of wine across provincial borders for personal consumption. In other words, you could import wine from other provinces in person, or order cases of wine through the Internet. According to the MP's office, the bill has so far received overwhelming support from the public as well as from all political parties. So far, it has moved relatively quickly through the House of Commons.

Hopefully, the bill will be sent to the Senate prior to the House of Commons break at the end of June. Otherwise, our Canadian winemakers will have to wait another year before – maybe – being able to sell their products to wine-lovers across the country.

I have criticized politicians before for spending too much taxpayer money, or for burying entrepreneurs under excessive regulations. But when an MP is willing to stand for the right of individuals and small businesses to freely exchange, I raise my glass and wish him the best of luck.

Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President and CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute. The views reflected in this column are his own.
* This column appears in Sun Media newspapers, published both in several of Canada's key urban markets (Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and London) and in its 28 community dailies.

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