B.C. 'can lawyer up if they want to,' says Alberta minister in response to wine ban challenge
B.C. wineries have lost at least $1 million in sales since the ban, which Alberta imposed Feb. 6 in response to pipeline restrictions
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As B.C.’s wine industry prepares to challenge Alberta’s ban on B.C. wine, the prairie province's economic development minister warned more sanctions could be on the way unless B.C.’s government reverses its opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
“British Columbia can lawyer up if they’d like to,” said Deron Bilous, Alberta's Economic Development and Trade Minister, “but we will continue to do what we need to in order to see this project move forward.”
Bilous said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has been clear that other measures will be brought if B.C. doesn’t back away from its proposal to restrict increased flow of diluted bitumen through the province until it’s satisfied there are sufficient measures in place to prevent spills and adequately clean them up if they happen.
In the meantime, B.C. wineries have lost at least $1 million in sales since the ban was implemented on Feb. 6, said Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond, the chair of the B.C. Wine Institute, which announced Wednesday it is seeking an injunction on the ban.
This follows news earlier this week that the B.C. government is also challenging the ban through the Canadian Free Trade Agreement dispute settlement process.
The ban is “unconstitutional,” said McWatters-Bond. “I believe that all Canadians should be concerned about this because if wine can be prohibited based on this province’s origin, then so could other products from other provinces.”
There are more than 270 wineries and 923 grape growers in B.C. Roughly 12,000 people depend on the industry, which contributes about $2.77 billion to the provincial economy. Alberta is a key market – about 20 per cent of bottled and produced B.C. wine is sold there.
“These are mostly small family owned operations that ultimately had nothing to do with this trade dispute that we’ve been brought into,” said McWatters-Bond, who has been affected by the ban personally.
She owns two wineries located just across the Okanagan lake and has seen a drop in the amount of wine she’s sending across the provincial border.
“We sell thousands of cases into Alberta and we are a small family-run operation, so not being able to sell or fulfill orders is critical to our business,” she said.
While Bilous said he hates that businesses are getting caught in the cross-fires of the dispute, he said the B.C. government is holding Alberta and the rest of Canada hostage on a project that’s already received federal approval.
“The message is getting through in B.C. They’ve had a week of a wine ban where our producers have been waiting for years and decades in fact for a new pipeline to tidewater,” he said.
“This is thousands of jobs, this is in the national interest, this is billions of dollars of investment,” he said.
The ongoing spat between Canada’s two western-most provinces has “disappointed” Werner Antweiler, an economist with UBC’s Saunder School of Business.
“A three-day talk is in order here to resolve these issues,” he said, calling on the two provinces and the federal government to sort out their differences cooperatively.
If the legal challenge moves forward Antweiler said it’s not clear which side will win.
Under federal liquor laws provinces essentially have an “absolute right” to regulate what is and isn’t being consumed, he said, yet the ban violates the spirit the Canada Free Trade Agreement.
If the injunction does not go through, the B.C. Wine Institute will have to figure out what they’ll do next, said McWatters-Bond.
“We’ll need some time to review the court’s decision on the injunction before determining what the next steps will be from there, but I can assure that we will continue to lobby and support our industry as well as our members,” she said.