Lawyer Shea Coulson, representing a group of B.C. wineries, presents arguments at the Supreme Court of Canada for lifting interprovincial trade barriers. Photo courtesy the Supreme Court of Canada.

B.C. wine industry fights for interprovincial trade in Supreme Court

Gerard Comeau likely never thought he would end up in the Supreme Court of Canada when he drove into Quebec to buy some cheap beer and bring it back to his New Brunswick home.

Comeau got a $292.50 fine for violating New Brunswick’s Liquor Control Act and his Supreme Court appeal, which closed after two days of presentations Thursday, could have ramifications for interprovincial trade across the country.

Lawyer Shea Coulson described the debate as a question how Section 121 of the Canadian Constitution should be interpreted, and whether or not it should extend into the areas viewed as belonging to the provinces.

Section 121 states items created in any province should be admitted freely into each of the other provinces. However, a precedent decision, known as Gold Seal, has allowed restriction that many provinces are using to block wine, beer and other alcohol across provincial borders.

“Gold Seal says that section 121 of the constitution is limited to protecting against tariff barriers only. It does not include non-tariff barriers,” said Coulson, who represented a group of intervenors from the B.C. wine industry to the court — Curtis Krouzel (50th Parallel Estate), Ian MacDonald (Liquidity Wines), Jim D’Andrea (Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery), Christine Coletta (Okanagan Crush Pad Winery) and John Skinner (Painted Rock Estate Winery).

Related: B.C. wine industry rallying for a fight

Sandra Oldfield, the former owner of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, travelled to Ottawa to observe the appeal case. Some of the conversations, she said, suggested local businesses would lose income and provinces would lose taxation revenue by freeing up interprovincial trade in spirits.

“I don’t really see where alcohol should be singled out for that. They’re already getting provincial taxes and everything on alcohol,” she said, noting that when B.C. didn’t seem to suffer when it lowered trade barriers five years ago, one of only three provinces to do so after Bill C-311 — introduced by MP Dan Albas — eliminated the federal blocks.

Coulson presented arguments that there is currently no national market for liquor in Canada, due to the current interpretation of Section 121 and Gold Seal.

“As a result small and boutique producers of Canadian wines find themselves shackled to the limits of their physical location in their province. They cannot access a national market, and thus, they cannot grow beyond a small regional industry,” said Coulson to the Supreme Court justices.

B.C. was one of three provinces that relaxed interprovincial trade barriers after Bill C-311 was passed five years ago. Oldfield said it hasn’t seemed to have hurt the B.C. wine industry, which has continued to grow.

“It’s not like we’ve had a flood of Ontario wines; if they’ve come in, in any amount, it certainly hasn’t hurt our industry,” said Oldfield. “I’ve never been a big believer that opening up the borders is going to take something away from the liquor board or the other side.

“When Canadians are exposed to more Canadian wine, they are going to drink more Canadian wines.”

Coulson and other intervenors argued that Section 121 was intended to create a national common market, balanced with appropriate protections for regional interests. That, he said, showed a need for a test to determine if provincial provisions are exclusionary, or served a real provincial need.

“It seems that most of the court recognizes that the trade barriers that do exist in Canada, particularly in relation to alcohol, are issues but some of the judges are questioning whether the court should be the one to resolve those issues, or should it be the government.

Noting that there doesn’t seem to be a problem with people having access to cheap Australian wines across the country, Oldfield said the industry’s desire isn’t to flood other provinces with B.C. wine.

“We should be able to forge a relationship with someone who walks in the winery door,” said Oldfield. “They want to be able to continue the relationship by joining our wine club and we want to be able to fulfill that order.”

Just Posted

Peachland councillor announces bid for mayor

Keith Thom says after four years on council, he feels he’s ready

Defence minister in Kelowna to talk to flood relief soldiers

Canadian Army has 300 soldiers on the Okanagan and Grand Folks areas to help with flood relief

Kelowna’s Fat Cat Children’s Festival gearing up for its 28th year

The popular two-day kid-focused festival will take place in Waterfront Park

World of Wheels spins through Peachland

World of Wheels brings thousands for a day of family fun

Kelowna’s Shadow Ridge Golf Club beats the water

They pitched in and managed to get the upper hand on a soggy situation

VIDEO: Canadian Forces help flood-ravaged Grand Forks residents heal

Sgt. Bradley Lowes says the military is used to dealing with traumatic times

Couple survives being buried in mudslide on B.C. highway

The couple, from Saskatchewan, were en route to Nelson when a tree fell in their path

PHOTOS: Floodwaters rise and fall in Grand Forks

The flood-ravaged Kootenay-Boundary region begins to heal

Martin Mars waterbombers’ firefighting days are done

Wayne Coulson said his company still hopes to find a new home for the vintage aircraft

Cat stuck on telephone pole in the South Okanagan rescued

FortisBC rescued a cat stuck on a telephone pole in Kaleden

NHL playoffs weekly roundup

Vegas Golden Knights have done the impossible and have a chance at hoisting the Stanley Cup

Kelowna sailors stay the course at COSA Regatta

38th Annual Springtime Regatta was held over the May long weekend on Okanagan Lake.

Changes needed for ‘Alert Ready’ mass emergency system

‘You need to strike this careful balance between alerting people to lots of problems — and doing it too often’

Las Vegas Golden Knights move on to Stanley Cup final

Improbable run continues for NHL’s newest expansion team

Most Read