The growing trade dispute over Alberta oil and B.C wine has found its way into the Kelowna West byelection.
Candidates in the upcoming vote to replace former Liberal MLA and premier Christy Clark are speaking out about Alberta’s decision to stop importing B.C. wine in response to B.C.’s opposition to expanding the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
“It is outrageous and petty that (Alberta Premier) Rachel Notley is using B.C. wine producers as pawns in her attempt to start a trade war,” said B.C. Green candidate Robert Stupka.
“Ms. Notley is simply acting like any other establishment politician up for re-election.”
Notley faces a provincial election in Alberta next spring.
His B.C. Liberal opponent, Ben Stewart, who owns and operates Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in West Kelowna, called Notely’s decision to punish B.C. wineries over the pipeline dispute “the ugly side of political decisions.”
And NDP candidate Shelley Cook said she thinks Alberta should take its fight to court instead of trying to punish B.C. wineries.
“I’m proud of B.C.’s wine industry and of the B.C. NDP government’s commitment to consult on the best ways to protect our lands and waters,” said Cook.
“I hope that the Alberta government makes the choice to pursue a resolution to this disagreement in the court system, rather than on wine store shelves.”
With the B.C. wine industry centred on the Okanagan, the issue is important to the local economy, where other sectors such as the tourism industry also benefit from visitors’ interest in wine.
On Tuesday, Notley announced her province’s liquor distribution branch will stop importing B.C. wine in response to B.C.’s opposition to expanding the Kinder Morgan pipeline which takes bitumen from the Oil Sands in northern Alberta to Vancouver.
According to Notley, 7.2 million bottles of B.C. wine are sold in Alberta each year, with sales of about $70 million. But the B.C. Wine Institute said that sales figure represents the wholesale cost. The actual retail value of B.C wine in Alberta is closer to $160 million, it said.
According to Stewart, for many B.C. wineries, especially smaller ones, as much as 25 per cent of their sales are in Alberta.
While larger wineries like his may be able to adjust sales to ship more wine into other areas of the country to compensate for the loss, he said smaller wineries do not have that luxury. And they rely on cash flow, especially at this time of year.
But while Stewart, Stupka and Cook all agreed B.C. wineries should not be used as pawns in a trade war between the two provinces, the three have different views about how B.C. is handling its side of the issue.
“The issue at hand is with an environmental assessment process that the federal government itself acknowledged is flawed and in need of a complete overhaul,” said Stupka.
“There is no evidence on the effects of a diluted bitumen spill and this poses a serious risk to BC. businesses and communities, including agriculture. The (National Energy Board) process that led to the approval of this pipeline was not based on evidence—the spill response analysis alone was predicated on an absurd 23 hours worth of sunlight.”
Cook also defended the NDP’s action saying the current government is trying to protect B.C. land and water.
But Stewart defended the process used to approve the pipeline expansion and noted the former B.C. Liberal government signed off on its approval. He called the NEB requirements a “very high threshold to meet.”
And he accused “inexperienced” NDP cabinet ministers in B.C. of tampering with that.
Even Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola MP Dan Albas weighed in, releasing a Facebook video late Tuesday calling the moves by both Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan “sabre-rattling electoral games.”
While Horgan faces the byelection in Kelowna West Feb. 14—the day Alberta has set to start its importation ban of B.C. wines—Notley is also gearing up for a provincial election in May 2019.
“If you allow for provinces to play their own electoral games and deny trade among provinces, it will only lead to lower growth,” said Albas.
The federal Conservative small business critic, Albas said it’s now up to the federal Liberal government to defend free trade across the country.
He said seven out of every 10 bottles of wine sold in Canada comes from another country, so having one province refusing to import Canadian wine from another province will only hurt the overall domestic industry.
“Notley and Horgan have to stop playing games,” said Albas.
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