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Premier Eby questions Alberta’s reasoning behind trade dispute over B.C. wine

B.C. promises additional support as interprovincial wine dispute brews up
The provincial government is promising additional support for Okanagan wine growers impacted by a shortage of grapes and a trade dispute with Alberta. (Black Press Media file photo)

Premier David Eby said it is “really hard to understand” why Alberta is restricting the direct sale of B.C.’s wine to buyers in that province.

Eby made that comment last week in Vernon when asked about Alberta’s decision against the backdrop of other industry challenges like severe weather.

Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis on Jan. 22 told B.C. wineries it won’t stock their products until they immediately agree to cease direct-to-consumer sales.

Eby said Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has reached to his counterpart in Alberta to “underline the importance” of the Alberta market for B.C. wine growers.

“They had a good conversation and I hope they will be able to reach resolution on this,” he said. “In addition, our government is also committed to support the agricultural industry. It’s not just the grape growers, but also a number of orchardists, who produce fruit from fruit trees and other perennials. These farmers are under huge pressure from the impacts of climate change, everything from the drought to the cold snaps to the intensely hot summers.”

Roly Russell, New Democratic MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, which includes multiple wineries in and around Oliver, Osoyoos and Keremeos, reiterated this promise of support in pointing to Farnworth’s discussion. “That is just the beginning,” Russell. “I know he (Farnworth) is determined to get an outcome that will benefit our wine industry.”

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Russell, who is also parliamentary secretary for rural development, also pointed to government support for growers dealing with what he called “climate-related challenges” causing the loss of grapes and other crops.

“Last year, approximately $27 million in production insurance claims were provided to growers who lost crops due to last winter’s freeze,” Russell said, while acknowledging more needs to be done. “In the face of a changing climate, our government is determined to take further steps to support wineries.”

BC United Leader Kevin Falcon said it is vital for government to address both Alberta’s decision and the pending shortage of grapes before it is too late.

“We’ll only know the true impacts of the cold snap in the coming months, but everything points towards a terrible situation for B.C. wine this year,” Ian Paton, BC United’s shadow minister for agriculture, added. “Couple that with reckless policies coming out of Alberta that seek to stop all direct-to-consumer B.C. wine sales into their province and you have a perfect storm.”

Steps demanded by BC United include: the immediate creation of a stakeholder group to identify the financial support necessary for the industry to survive a grape shortage expected to last for the next three to four years: a temporary expansion of existing tax incentives for wines with 100 percent B.C.-grown grapes to include wines produced in B.C. with 100 percent Canadian-grown grapes; and ease the import of grapes and juice from Ontario.

BC United is also calling for an immediate meeting with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.

Bill C-311, sponsored by Okanagan-area MP Dan Albas, a long-time critic of interprovincial trade barriers, permits Canadian wine to be delivered from another province free of barriers or tariffs. But only British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have permitted their residents to do so, according to the industry group Wine of British Columbia.

Alberta, which once permitted to the import of liquor from other provinces for personal consumption, amended its regulations to make imports subject to the policies of its provincial liquor control board.

Miles Prodan, president and CEO of Wine Growers British Columbia, has questioned Alberta’s decision in expressing concern that Alberta’s government is targeting B.C. for political gains unrelated to the industry itself.

“Currently AGLC jurisdiction is limited to regulating persons and activities within the province,” Prodan said. “The Alberta laws governing (direct-to-consumer) shipping are all designed to regulate consumer activities — their authority does not extend to BC manufacturers exporting wine into the province.”

-with files from Canadian Press

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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