The Fine Print…
One of the significant challenges in creating a Private Members Bill is the language. How, in a legal sense, can you communicate the intent of a Private Members Bill in a way that is both easy to understand and at the same time can achieve ultimately what you are setting out to do. In this case, there are some added challenges because it was important for me to effectively communicate a few critical aspects of my Bill from an industry perspective that had to also be noted in the legal spirit of the Bill. I also wanted to ensure that in attempting to solve one problem, others were not inadvertently created.
In short, I sought out a considerable amount of advice and heard extensively over the past year from the wine industry directly. I am also fortunate to have a senior staff member who not only has close to a decade of inter-governmental experience working with the local wine industry, but also a legislative background.
The advice I received was clear, the legislation wherever possible, must be kept as simple and as specific as possible. In this case, the wording of my Bill was proposed to deal specifically with a concern that was overwhelmingly expressed by many small family-run wineries in my riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla – the need to be able to sell their wine to consumers living in other provinces across Canada, an action currently prohibited by the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA). Since the Bill has now been introduced I have also heard from other wineries across Canada, particularly in the Ontario Niagara and Nova Scotia Annapolis Valley regions, who have the same problem and will also benefit from this legislation if passed.
As to the wording of my Bill, it is important to recognize that there are essentially two ways one can important wine into a province. It can be done directly in person, or it can be done indirectly through shipping over the internet, telephone order or whatever else. It is important both to consumers and the industry that both methods of importation be exempted from the IILA and that is precisely what I am proposing in my Bill. For an emerging wine producing region such as the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, I believe the ability to ship wine to a province like Alberta (as an example) will create an economic benefit to that region as it will to the many small family run wineries in my riding. When you consider that today Nova Scotia has roughly 15 wineries, which is where British Columbia was at back in the early 1990’s and today there are close to 200 B.C. wineries, the potential for growth cannot be understated. Further, in the case of British Columbia even 9000 acres planted in grapes can produce a group yield in excess of $ 40 million annually. This creates jobs and spin off industries, precisely as it has done in the Niagara Region of Ontario with roughly 16,000 acres of grapes. I understand that there are also now close to 50 wineries in the Province of Quebec, and in fact every province in Canada now has at least one or more wineries.
I have also been asked why my Bill did not extend to beer and other alcohol related spirits and why I did not propose to repeal the IILA in entirety. These are good questions. The intent of the Bill is not to create a free-for-all environment where Provincial Liquor Distribution Branches can be rampantly circumvented and bypassed. My concern, and why I opted not to propose a repeal of the IILA or expand the exemption beyond wine, was to ensure that did not occur.
We must recognize that provinces depend on the revenues they receive from sources such as Liquor Distribution, and it is important that provinces maintain control of policy that can impact revenue. My proposed amendment ensures that a province maintains the ability to set policy as it pertains to a provincial exemption on wine importation. My Bill, as it must be pointed out, only deals with the federal aspect of putting an end to a prohibition era law. That said it should be noted that the provinces of Alberta and Ontario should be commended for adopting personal wine import exemptions that are currently encumbered only by this prohibition era federal IILA legislation. Other provinces have also cited the existence of the IILA as a reason why they have not adopted, or even contemplated, a personal wine exemption policy.
It is for these reasons that I believe this exemption can and will make a real difference for many Canadian wineries and wine consumers alike.
I can appreciate that this post is a lengthy one, however I believe it is important to outline why I have put this Bill forward and also have proposed the language in the Bill as it stands. In the future sittings of the House of Commons my Bill (Bill C-311) will come back before the House for second reading debate subject to the Private Members Order of Precedence. The order is set by a lottery format and I was fortunate that I was number twelve on the list. If the Bill passes second reading it will be moved on to Committee stage for further review, in this case to the Finance Committee as the IILA falls under the CRA mandate. I will keep you posted on the progress of the Bill as it moves along. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to ask. For your information, the entire contents of the actual Bill can be viewed below….