Monday, November 7, 2011

Craft Beer Industry Missing Out on Law Reforms

Recently my sister-in-law and her husband from Mexico visited my family and as a gift they brought us a few bottles of ice wine from the Niagara Region of Ontario, where they stopped over for a few days to see the sights.
You should have seen the look on their faces when I told them they had just violated a federal law by importing alcohol from one province to another within Canada. In one fell swoop, I was aiding and abetting criminals and was in possession of contraband alcohol.

Yes, in case you did not know, thanks to the Importing of Intoxicating Liquor Act (IILA) of 1928, it is indeed illegal to transport alcohol from one province to the next as all alcohols must be purchased through the provincial liquor boards, which have absolute power to do what they please. It is a law that has long since outgrown its purposefulness, originally enacted after prohibition to give provincial governments a monopoly on importing, exporting, distribution and sales of all alcohols in order to keep things under control and in check in the post-prohibition era.
Many of us have unwittingly broken this federal law by purchasing liquor in other provinces while on vacation in other parts of this great country of ours and bringing it back home. I once brought back a whole box of Sortilege, a delectable blend of distilled maple syrup and rye whiskey from Montreal and labelled the box "fragile, bottles of alcohol" on the box, literally announcing my criminal activity to all!

Today, the LDB continues to maintain a complete monopoly on the alcohol trade here in BC and answers to no one. Even the private retail liquor stores (LRS) must buy their alcohol through the LDB, who mark up the price, creating an uneven playing field, cost-wise, with the LDB government liquor stores having the unfair advantage. The LDB also has the ability to restrict consumer choice by simply not purchasing products they don't want to distribute, whether there is a consumer demand for those products or not.

But there is a movement afoot to change some of these restrictions in regards to the IILA and free trade between provinces, but unfortunately it seems that the laws that will be changed to allow limited amounts of wine only to be transported over provincial borders without having to go through the provincial liquor boards concerned.
Dan Albas, Conservative MP for Okanagan/Coquilhalla, recently introduced a private members bill , Bill C-311, in the House of Commons that is attempting to amend the IILA to allow for limited amounts of wine, for personal use, to be brought/shipped directly by/to the consumer across provincial borders. Bill C-311, is currently undergoing its second reading before the House of Commons and if it passes, will be sent to a committee to be examined before going before a third and final reading in the house. If passed in the third reading the bill will be enacted into law and the proposed changes will be made to the archaic IILA.

Bill C-311, if successful, will allow for,
"the importation of wine from a province by an individual, 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."
My question is why does the wording of Bill C-311 include wine only and not include beer? Have the BC Craft Brewers Guild (BCCBG) missed the political boat being steered by the BC wine lobby?
According to the BC Craft Brewers Guild Chairman, Tod Melnyk, the BCCBG are aware of Bill C-311, but don't consider it pertinent to the BC craft beer industry.
"We have not lobbied to have beer included in Bill C-311 as it has not been as issue in our segment," stated Melnyk in an via email.

For me, as a consumer, this is the exact kind of political lobbying and advocacy that the BC craft beer industry is in need of and the powers that be associated with the BC Craft Brewer's Guild seem to have been asleep at the switch. How can opening up inter-provincial transportation of your products, even just a little, not be an advantage to your business and the industry as a whole?  If you go by the coverage Bill C-311 is getting on wine blogs and wine-related websites, there is quite a buzz of excitement about these proposed changes the the IILA. It is just a toe in the door, in regards to opening up free movement of alcohols between provinces, but a toe in the door is better than a door slammed shut in your face and once pried open a little, there is room to push that door open further.

If Bill C-311 passes and get enacted into law, the craft beer industry have a legitimate grounds to claim the wine industry have an unfair advantage and that beer and other alcohols should be included in the amendment to the IILA. We, as consumers should insist on these changes to be made. It might not be important to the BCCBG, but to me, as a consumer and lover of craft beer, it is important to me to have as much access to great craft beers no matter where they are brewed. Why shouldn't I be able to order a case of craft beer from Ontario, or Quebec if I am willing to pay the price? It may seem far-fetched, but trust me, there would be people interested. In the past, I have paid to fly briskets of Schwartz's Montreal smoked meat out to Vancouver for special occasions so why not fly out a few cases of Dieu du Ciel beers to accompany the meal if I so desire.

I truly hope that the BCCBG's apathy towards this law changes and that they do lobby in the future to amend further these archaic liquor laws that restrict them as an industry and restrict us as consumers.

In the meantime, I am going set about the task of getting rid of the contraband ice wine in my possession. Come to think of it, I had better "dispose" of that Sortilege as well.