Winery Puts Law to the Test
BC winemaker plans interprovincial shipping on the heels of federal legislation; liquor commission executive calls move premature
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is offering free shipping as well as 10% off the purchase of cases of wine July 1, Canada Day, “to celebrate the recent passage of Bill C-311, which lifts restrictions on inter-provincial purchasing and shipping.”
Passed June 18, Bill C-311 amended federal laws governing interprovincial shipments of wine to explicitly allow the transport of wine between provinces “if the individual brings the wine or causes it to be brought into another province, in quantities and as permitted by the laws of the latter province, for his or her personal consumption and not for resale or other commercial use.”
Prior to September 2008, when the boards overseeing liquor sales in the provinces Ontario and Manitoba warned British Columbia’s wineries against shipping wine to customers in their provinces, Tinhorn Creek had shipped a small amount of wine to customers outside BC.
Now, with the change in federal legislation opening the door to the interprovincial shipment of wine, Tinhorn is staging a one-day sale—and the liquor boards haven’t pushed back.
“I haven’t had anything sent to me from any liquor board,” said Sandra Oldfield, winemaker at Tinhorn Creek and an advocate for interprovincial shipping.
Speaking at a gathering of wine industry representatives in 2011, Oldfield pointed out that she was able to order a gun from a neighboring province and have it shipped to her, while shipping wine between provinces was forbidden. (See Wines & Vines headline “Canada’s Wine Industry Wants a Vote” from April 4, 2011.)
Oldfield says the test will come Monday, when Tinhorn begins filling orders
“I’m just kind of open to see if anything happens between now and then,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll communicate with people if it does.”
‘It’s not legal’
Rowland Dunning, executive director of the Canadian Association of Liquor Jurisdictions, which has been speaking for Canada’s provincial and territorial liquor boards about the issue of interprovincial shipping, was nonplussed. He described the move as “kind of bizarre.”
“They must know that they can’t do that. The carriers could be fined. It’s not legal to do that,” he protested to Wines & Vines. “All the legislation does is tell the provinces they can do whatever they want to do.”
While the assertion flies in the face of lawmakers’ understanding of the legislation—“Bill C-311 would allow Canadians to bring back wine from their visits to other provinces and to make online purchases,” Sen. Claudette Tardif told fellow senators—Dunning stuck by the wording of the amendment in the bill, which permits importation “as permitted by the laws of the latter province” (that is, the province of delivery.)
“The amendment doesn’t really change anything,” Dunning said. “Nothing has really changed other than the federal government has clarified, from their perspective, that the provinces can set their own rules to allow people to bring wine with them from province to province. And all provinces were doing it anyway.”
Alberta, however, was the sole jurisdiction that allowed unrestricted wine imports by individuals for personal use, while BC amended its rules at the beginning of June to allow individuals to bring alcoholic beverages with them, with a limit of “one case of wine, four bottles of spirits and a combined total of six dozen beer, cider and coolers from other provinces for personal consumption.”
The change brought the policy in BC in line with Ontario, Nova Scotia and the Yukon.
Dunning said there were no plans to intervene until wineries took action that contravened provincial laws—or more to the point, cut into provincial revenues from alcohol sales.
“If a winery wants to take an order from somebody in Ontario and remit back to the province of Ontario the taxes and markup that are due on that product, then maybe we’ve got something to talk about. But that discussion has not even started yet,” he said. “If a discussion gets under way, we’d be more than willing to look at ways and means that revenues to the provinces where the wine is being shipped is not impacted.”
Right now, no one is starting that discussion, Dunning said. Hearings this week in Ontario might herald change, however.
Ontario lawmakers recently commissioned a review of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the world’s single largest buyer of wine. Two days of hearings this week in the province’s key winemaking areas solicited feedback about the board’s operations, including recommendations regarding changes that would enable local wineries to grow their businesses.