Comeau case interesting for Okanagan wineries

Richard Cannings writes about the BC wine industry in “From the Hill.”

By Richard Cannings, MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay

One of the many happy tasks of a Member of Parliament is meeting up with constituents when they visit Ottawa. Last Thursday I had the pleasure of inviting representatives of the Okanagan wine industry to lunch. They and their legal team had just had a memorable morning intervening in an important Supreme Court action, known as the Comeau case.

Gerard Comeau was charged in 2012 with bringing 14 cases of beer into New Brunswick from Quebec. He argued successfully in a New Brunswick court that the law limiting him to crossing the border with only 12 pints of beer was unconstitutional—the 1867 British North America Act that founded Canada states that products “shall be admitted free into each of the other provinces.”

Despite this direction from our founders, Canadian provinces have developed a myriad of interprovincial trade barriers over the last 150 years. Many of these barriers are apparent to business owners, but the one the public notices most often is the barrier to carrying alcohol across borders.

This is a real problem to Okanagan wineries, many of which have long lists of loyal customers from other provinces, especially Alberta. These customers buy wine and carry it back home.

Most provinces (BC, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are the only exceptions) have their own barriers in place to protect their monopolies on liquor distribution.

So that brings us back to the Comeau case. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal from the New Brunswick government, the BC wine industry decided to apply for intervenor status in the name of five local wineries. We won’t know the result of their efforts until the spring, but it is clear that many politicians, bureaucrats, and wine and beer lovers across the country will be waiting with interest. I tried myself to get into the gallery of the Supreme Court on Thursday morning to watch the proceedings, but found the gallery filled to overflowing—such was the intense interest in the case.

After all this talk of alcohol, please be careful this holiday season and don’t drink and drive. If you’re in the Kootenays and would like to meet me at a festive open house I’m holding with MLA Katrine Conroy, please drop by the Castlegar community complex on Monday, Dec. 18 from 2 p.m to 6 p.m. I wish you all a merry Christmas and a very happy and healthy New Year!

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