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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), set out to make trade in North America duty-free, yet that somehow never applied to trade between Canadian provinces, a scenario that western provincial leaders are trying to amend. Somewhat inexplicably, labour and goods (especially including beer and wine) are prevented from being moved or sold from one province to another, through tariffs, barriers, and general restrictions.

Was this a result of the evils of Chretien or Harper, or some kind of partisan agenda to destroy the opposition? Actually, no. Today, Brad Wall, of the Saskatchewan Party, Christy Clarke of the BC Liberals, and Dave Hancock, interim leader of the Alberta Progressive-Conservatives all signed a letter asking to join them in their quest to make the sale of goods freer in this country than booze will flow thereafter.

What’s most interesting is that this is essentially a bipartisan (technically tripartisan though the Saskatchewan Party doesn’t really count) initiative, a way of bridging the political divide to net cheaper booze (er, goods and services) for Canadians. Regrettably, what’s stopping them is the other provinces, and specifically their liquor boards.

Rackets like the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (with implications that you forget when you say LCBO) have fought every deregulation to the intra-provincial sale of alcohol. Notably in 2012, when the federal Conservatives passed legislation (Bill C-311) to allow Canadian wineries to sell their wine over the internet, only BC and Manitoba authorized it, while “Ontario, Alberta and Quebec continue to jealously guard the revenues that flow through their own liquor distribution systems,” according to the Globe and Mail.

The LCBO insists that you can order  booze privately through its own systems, rendering alternative distribution methods unnecessary, but winemakers who typically sell bottles for $55, say the price is marked up to “nearly $100” by the LCBO.

 

Brad Wall, pictured wondering why a Quebecois winemaker can't sell wine to Ontario without four dozen licensesSamantha Maciag

Brad Wall, pictured discovering that a Saskatchewanite winemaker can’t sell wine to Ontarians without four dozen licenses and at twice the price.
Samantha Maciag

 

With so many crown-corporations owned in whole or part by major corporations (The Beer Store, for example, is owned 49% by Labatt, 49% by Molson, and 2% Sleeman and 0% Ontarians), there is little incentive to abandon the legalized monopoly, especially with high markups and oodles of tax revenue to provincial governments.

These barriers cost $49 billion each year according to the letter, and in August it will be discussed among provincial leaders at the Council of the Federation meeting. Let’s hope that the rest of the provinces decide to work together too, and boost Canadian spirits, by letting them be sold.