Protectionism: the Achilles heel of the Canadian wine industry
You may have heard about a recent bill that was abolished called C97: a 91 year old federal law that prevented inter-provincial shipment of alcohol within Canada.
Despite this archaic law, many businesses subscribed to the pathos of "don't ask for permission, beg for forgiveness" and shipped their product anyway.
Until recently, when this law was rendered obsolete. In the words of Mark Hicken of WineLaw.ca: "essentially, the federal government passed the buck to the provinces to govern the shipment of product themselves".
If you've ever visited a winery anywhere in Canada, you've likely been enticed to join a wine club - where you receive an allotted amount of wine per year, shipped by the likes of Canada Post or other outfits.
When C97 was abolished, the wine industry collectively shrieked with joy - progress seemed imminent.
Until Ontario announced a law - singling out BC - banning direct to consumer shipment of wine, threatening jail time and heavy fines. Could you imagine something as comedic as Anthony Von Mandl behind bars for shipping his wines direct to consumers in Ontario? (something tells me there'd be a lot of happy people were this to actually occur)
Naturally, this recent development has spooked small wineries - without a budget to hire bull dog lawyers or the means to fight a cartel as scary as the LCBO - the only plausible response has been to immediately stop shipping wine to Ontario.
This is problematic on many levels - retribution under the guise of "protecting the consumer". Supposedly, we live in a democracy and free market yet operate as a monopoly.
Shea Coulson, a lawyer at Denton’s in Vancouver, spoke on the topic when I emailed him recently to ask for his opinion:
“A legal challenge is possible (on the basis that it is impermissible protectionism) it would require buy in from out of province wineries and financing which has been in short supply on these issues. Other than that there isn’t anything that can be done legally.”
Angry outcries have flooded the pages of social media:
“Seriously?! Let’s see Ontario create a law and prove that it is to protect the health and safety of their population and not line their own, already greasy pockets. Arg! This is so childish. We are ONE nation.”
-Krissy Neilsen, wine expert in Okanagan, BC
“Thanks Supreme Court of Canada. Ruling that "Free Access" is an ambiguous term has unleashed the protectionism the fathers of confederation were so afraid of when they put this in the constitution. Shame, shame, shame. It is so sad that I have lost all respect for the highest court in the land. This is not a good place to be, and I don't think I'm alone.”
-Bill Eggert, winemaker, Fairview Cellars, Oliver, BC
Until the dust settles, it's likely no BC wine will be shipped into Ontario indefinitely. While private orders can still be made on behalf of the LCBO, expect to be subject to a hefty 75% markup and months long waiting time to receive your order.
The Government of Ontario has argued that "other provinces discriminate against Ontario wines so the Ontario government was not going to allow wine from other provinces to be bought via e-commerce." (biv.com)
This unconstitutional outlook is not reflective of consumer opinion or demand. Since moving to Toronto, I've had the opportunity to pour examples of high quality boutique producers to the utter shock of sommeliers and wine bar owners, ignorantly unknowing to all the strides the BC wine industry has made.
The BC/Ontario rivalry is a pathetic battle of ego - and likely one that won't end soon.