New Brunswick Crown prosecutor Bill Richards lays out the arguments supporting provincial rights to regulate liqour crossing their borders for the Supreme Court of Canada Tuesday morning. (Photo courtesy Supreme Court of Canada)

Stakes are high for the wine industry

Supreme court hears arguments for limiting interprovincial trade in wine and other spirits

Gerard Comeau likely never thought he would end up in the Supreme Court of Canada when he drove into Quebec to buy some cheap beer and bring it back to his New Brunswick home.

Comeau got a $292.50 fine for violating New Brunswick’s Liquor Control Act, and his Supreme Court appeal, which started today, could have ramifications for interprovincial trade across the country.

Related: B.C. wine industry rallying for a fight

Sandra Oldfield, the former owner of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, travelled to Ottawa to observe the appeal case. The first day, she said, involved the justices listening to arguments and presentations from attorneys-general representing most of the provinces.

“They’re definitely making the case for the provinces and the liquor board,” she said, referring to existing regulations most provinces have limiting interprovincial trade in spirits, beer and wine.

“It was definitely interesting hearing that side. There are two sides to everything and it was interesting to hear them all in one day,” said Oldfield, who has been involved in the #freemygrapes for several years.

Some of the conversations, she said, suggested local growers would lose income and provinces would lose taxation revenue by freeing up interprovincial trade in spirits.

“I don’t really see where alcohol should be singled out for that. They’re already getting provincial taxes and everything on alcohol,” she said, noting that when B.C. didn’t seem to suffer when it lowered trade barriers five years ago, one of only three provinces to do so after Bill C-311 — introduced by MP Dan Albas — eliminated the federal blocks.

Though some provinces increased their own barrier regulations in the wake of C-311, Oldfield said the B.C. wine industry has continued to grow.

“It’s not like we’ve had a flood of Ontario wines; if they’ve come in, in any amount, it certainly hasn’t hurt our industry,” said Oldfield. “I’ve never been a big believer that opening up the borders is going to take something away from the liquor board or the other side. ,” said Oldfield. “I’ve always seen it as the pie gets bigger, it grows.

“When Canadians are exposed to more Canadian wine, they are going to drink more Canadian wines.”

Oldfield said the justices were well-informed on the issues and relevant past cases.

“It’s been pretty impressive to see the justices, to be in that room and see the depth of their knowledge. It’s pretty overwhelming, I would say,” said Oldfield.

The appeal continues tomorrow, including a presentation from intervenors representing the B.C. Wine industry: Curtis Krouzel (50th Parallel Estate), Ian MacDonald (Liquidity Wines), Jim D’Andrea (Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery), Christine Coletta (Okanagan Crush Pad Winery) and John Skinner (Painted Rock Estate Winery).

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