Alberta boycotts B.C. wines amid bitumen battle
The B.C. premier is calling on Alberta to back down on a threat issued Tuesday to halt the import of all B.C. wines into the province, the latest jab in an ongoing feud over pipeline expansion.
Alberta is halting the import of all B.C. wines into the province as the latest jab in an ongoing feud over pipeline expansion.
Speaking in the legislature in Edmonton, Premier Rachel Notley said the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission is halting all imports effective immediately.
Notley said the province currently imports about 17 million bottles from B.C. wineries each year, or about 1.4 million cases. The annual value is about $70 million, Notley said.
The British Columbia Wine Institute said approximately 30 per cent of all wine sold in Alberta is from B.C., and it estimated the value at $160 million. Alberta is considered B.C.'s most important market outside of the province, the BCWI said.
"This is one good step to waking B.C. up to the fact that they can't attack our industry without a response from us," Notley said.
"Of course, this action will harm the B.C. wine industry, and I honestly wish it did not have to be this way," she added. "We don't take this lightly. Albertans didn't want or invite this fight."
She said the AGLC would also step up enforcement efforts to prevent direct sales between wineries and consumers.
"I'm also encouraging all Albertans next time you're thinking about ordering a glass of wine, think of our energy workers. Think of your neighbours. Think of our community. Think of our province, and maybe choose some terrific Alberta craft beer instead."
Stemming the flow of alcohol is the latest in a series of forewarned consequences Alberta intends to impose on its neighbour to the west, part of an ongoing dispute over a pipeline expansion project.
Referring to B.C.'s attempt to hinder the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline an "unprovoked and unconstitutional attack," Notley warned that blocking the project would have further legal and economic effects.
B.C.'s environment minister said previously that the NDP plans to ban increased shipments of diluted bitumen to the coast until it can determine adequate spill response plans are in place. The government will establish an independent advisory panel to study the issue.
Instead of using tactics the B.C. premier previously referred to as "sabre-rattling," Alberta should be fighting its battles through the court system, John Horgan said.
"Our government has every right to consult with British Columbians on the best possible measures to protect our lands and waters from the potential impacts of diluted bitumen spills," he said in a statement Tuesday.
Horgan said his government's consultation on new regulations hasn't even begun, but already Alberta is taking measures to impact B.C. business owners.
"I urge Alberta to step back from this threatening position. We stand with B.C. wine producers and will respond to the unfair trade actions announced today," he said.
In a statement, the president of the BCWI said the group was "shocked" by Alberta's boycott on an unrelated sector.
"The B.C. wine industry has worked hard to build a positive relationship and partnership with Alberta, particularly in the wine, culinary and tourism sectors," Miles Prodan said.
"We are disappointed that this political decision is threatening our progress and threatening the successes that have benefited small business in both the Alberta and B.C. economies."
Alberta could face fines for trade block
Notley told reporters that she did not want Alberta to be the only province impacted by another's rule-breaking.
But imposing a sanction like the one announced Tuesday violates the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, a trade accord between B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Notley said Alberta has always promoted free trade of goods, but that Alberta suffers when other provinces don't. The province is working its way out of recession, she said, and cannot afford a threat that could scare off investors.
When asked whether she was willing to risk $5 million in fines that come with a violation of the New West agreement, Notley replied, "Yep."
She said the cost of not going ahead with the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion is about $1.5 billion per year to the Alberta treasury alone.
While she ceded that a hit to the wine industry wouldn't pack the same punch as a move to block a major energy project, she referred to the decision as a way to make a point.
"I know a lot of Albertans who love B.C. wine -- quite frankly, I'm one of them -- just like I know a lot of British Columbians who love to drive their cars, fly in planes, and heat their homes using Alberta energy products," she said.
Last week, Notley said she was suspending electricity purchase talks with B.C., the first move in the province's retaliation plan. The deal is estimated to bring up to $500 million a year to B.C.'s coffers.
Calls for federal intervention
Notley accused B.C. of trying to change the rules following a green light from the federal Liberals. She called on the Justin Trudeau Government to do more to smooth the expansion, saying the issue was not between B.C. and Alberta, but between B.C. and Canada.
"This kind of uncertainty is bad for investment and bad for working people," she said at the time.
"Enough is enough. We need to get these things built."
Trudeau has said the pipeline is not a danger to the B.C. coast, adding the government spent billions on research and spill response.
Locally, Liberal agriculture critic Ian Paton said he felt it was time for Horgan to put aside the spat.
"This has gotten absurd," the Delta South MLA said in a statement.
"You now have two NDP governments fighting a trade war over a project that has received approval from the federal government, who has the final say in this."
Paton said Horgan's stance is threatening agricultural jobs in his own province, and that B.C.'s $2.8-billion wine industry is a significant driver of the provincial economy.
Calling the situation lose-lose, Paton said, "He needs to stop playing games – these are people's livelihoods."
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Edmonton