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B.C. wineries must pay up if they want access to Alberta, Nally says

B.C. wineries that were sent warnings from AGLC to stop selling directly to consumers have been avoiding Alberta’s alcohol tax, says Nally. Wineries’ lawyer says that winegrowers are happy to pay, but the province lacks a system to do so.

B.C. wineries that mail liquor right to Albertans’ doorsteps have been dodging their taxes, says Dale Nally, red tape reduction Minister and MLA for Morinville – St. Albert.

Recently Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) warned B.C. wineries that it would halt retail sales of their products if they did not stop shipping wine directly to Alberta consumers.

The move left vintners confused and angry, as the federal government in 2019 removed regulations on interprovincial shipments of alcohol – in cases that the receiving province gives permission.

“The wineries in B.C. have done a pretty good job of getting the attention of the media and telling everyone how tough it is for them,” said Nally, who oversees AGLC. “This is not about accessing Alberta's marketplace … We have an open and free market for liquor. Anybody can sell their wine in our province, but you have to pay your taxes.”

AGLC collects a markup on alcohol sold in Alberta, and this money goes to the province. But by shipping directly to consumers, B.C. wineries have avoided the extra fee, according to Nally.

Nally said that the AGLC could consider accommodating direct-to-consumer sales if B.C. wineries accept the tax.

Alberta liquor producers also have a hard time accessing B.C. markets, Nally said.

“[The wineries’] concern is not that they can't get into Alberta; their concern is that they can't get into Alberta tax free,” he said.

“We're against unnecessary red tape, and I would consider collecting revenue on behalf of Albertans to be very necessary. We will always put Albertans first.”

Al Hudec, a lawyer representing some B.C. wineries, said that vintners would be happy to pay the $2.75-per-bottle tax if Alberta put in place a regime for doing so.

“But Alberta doesn't have anything like that right now,” he said.

Hudec said that wineries have reached out to the province to start conversations about creating a system that will allow direct-to-consumer sales to continue.

“Regulators gets stuck in it in the past, and the regulators are used to regulating brick and mortar type retailers,” Hudec said. “They haven't caught up to the modern reality that a lot of shopping is now over the internet, including shopping for a wine.”

“The Minister [of red tape reduction] should not be letting these bureaucrats at the AGLC set trade policy for the province. Picking a fight like this is something that should be done at the political level.”

This winter B.C. wineries were hit with an extreme cold snap for the second year in a row, potentially damaging crops and reducing yield.

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