BC must get e-commerce sales right to make #FreeMyGrapes a success
Last Wednesday, wineries throughout BC celebrated the passage of Bill C-311 from the House of Commons to the Senate following a rare unanimous vote by federal Members of Parliament. Unfortunately, celebration turned to confusion yesterday when the BC Government announced a new policy on the importation of wine (and other liquor) which appeared to fly in the face of Bill C-311 (see: BC Reverses Bill C-311 Wine Shipping Law). The confusion was maintained throughout the day when the responsible Minister, Rich Coleman, told media that B.C. would permit the "inter-provincial shipment" of wine even though the press release said the opposite. As of the time of writing this, the press release has not been revised. In an attempt to clear up the confusion, I obtained all new regulations related to liquor this morning to see what had actually been done. Surprisingly, none of the new regulations relate to this matter at all (rather, they deal with fines for supplying liquor to minors). Consequently, it appears that yesterday's announcement is, in fact, purely a "policy announcement" and that there have been no changes to the law in B.C. that relate to the inter-provincial importation of wine (or other liquor).
In respect of the wine industry, and the progress of Bill C-311, this is disappointing because the industry was looking to the B.C. government to provide leadership for other provinces such that all provinces would embrace the spirit of Bill C-311 and clearly permit the shipment of wine between provinces in amounts that are reasonable for personal consumption. It is difficult to see how other provinces can be expected to embrace the free trade of wine within Canada if the leading wine producing province, British Columbia, does not do so, or it provides only vague verbal support rather than concrete actions which will actually accomplish something. In this respect, the industry is looking for leadership and it would be helpful if the Minister would clarify matters and, particularly, express the Government's commitment to the following:
- B.C. consumers will be able to buy reasonable quantities of wine on trips to other provinces and return with that wine legally to their home province.
- B.C. consumers will be able to order wine by telephone and e-commerce in reasonable quantities from other provinces and it will be legal for that wine to be shipped to the customer.
Thursday's press release states the first of the above points (at least in respect of 1 case of wine per person per trip) but does not explain what the legal basis is for the change. The press release explicitly states that B.C. and all other provinces will not permit the second, much more important, point. In this respect, it is essential that B.C. promise that no distinctions will be made between the “in-person” transport of wine between provinces and the shipment of wine, including e-commerce. This issue is critical to ensure that the spirit of Bill C-311 is respected.
Finally, in respect of all of the above, it should be noted that the "policy" announcements of provincial governments are NOT laws. Laws are contained in statutes and regulations. Policy announcements are supposed to be indications of how a government interprets existing law. They do not have the force of law on their own and cannot interpret a law which does not exist. As a result, it is difficult to see how yesterday's "policy announcement" accomplished anything other than confusing both wineries and consumers. Hopefully, the government will clarify these issues quickly and build on the positive momentum and support that Bill C-311 has attracted thus far.
- post by Mark Hicken