Provinces agree to raise personal exemption for interprovincial booze sales

Provinces agree to raise personal exemption for interprovincial booze sales

The amount of liquor individuals can bring across a provincial boundary for personal use is set to double, following a deal struck at the Council of the Federation meetings late Thursday in Saint Andrews, N.B.

Canada’s provinces and territories, which have jurisdiction over the sale of alcohol, formed a working group on alcoholic beverages last year after they were unable to agree on how to liberalize liquor sales before the rest of the text of the Canadian Free Trade Agreement took effect last summer.

That working group reported back earlier this month and made seven recommendations, including the doubling of the personal exemption limit that sets how much beer, wine and spirits an individual can transport across a provincial boundary for his or her own consumption.

Currently, two provinces, Alberta and Manitoba, have no limits whatsoever. The rest have a confusing array of restrictions and limits.

Three jurisdictions — New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories, and Newfoundland and Labrador — have very low limits, making it illegal to cross a provincial boundary with anything but small amounts of liquor.

In the remaining eight jurisdictions, the personal exemption limits are similar, usually:

  • Nine litres of wine (or a standard case).
  • Three litres of spirits.
  • 24.6 litres of beer (or three standard cases of 24). 

Under a deal hammered out late Thursday evening between provincial officials, these limits will double, to:

  • 18 litres of wine (or two cases).
  • six litres of spirits.
  • 49.2 litres of beer (six standard cases of 24).

In the three jurisdictions that have lower exemptions to start, their limits will rise to the level of the other eight provinces and territories, meaning the change is more dramatic for those three.

Yukon, Newfoundland and Labrador reluctant

Premiers considered these recommendations during their meetings on economic and trade issues Thursday.

But they were unable to reach a deal during the day. New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, the chair and host of this year’s summer premiers meeting, told reporters late afternoon that a deal was close, but more work remained.

That work unfolded through the evening. Sources from at least two provinces have confirmed to CBC News that Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador were the holdouts.

As a province with a very low limit, Newfoundland and Labrador would be making a large shift to sign on to the doubling proposal.

In Yukon’s case, this negotiation came at a difficult time: the territory is in the process of modernizing its liquor act, and it had significant social responsibility concerns that could be exacerbated by making it easier to bring alcohol into the territory.

Some liquor control boards had warned provincial governments of potential lost sales and tax revenue if it becomes easier to shop across provincial and territorial boundaries.

Manitoba, whose premier, Brian Pallister, appeared on CBC News Network Thursday morning holding a can of beer and endorsing change, was insistent that Canada’s liquor trade be more free. Pallister wrote to his fellow premiers before the meeting began to lobby for a decision when they met this week.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks with CBC’s Hannah Thibedeau ahead of the Council of the Federation talks in New Brunswick 4:48

Gallant was also keen to make a breakthrough this week, in order to be able to show tangible progress on an interprovincial trade issue he’d identified as a priority. 

Although New Brunswick took one of its residents all the way to the Supreme Court to argue in favour of its jurisdiction over setting liquor limits, the current Liberal government is not opposed to liquor sales liberalization per se.

Gallant said he has no problem with raising limits, but provincial officials advised proceeding with the court case to defend New Brunswick’s jurisdiction to regulate in this area.

Announcement expected Friday

The working group presented another option to the premiers: eliminating all limits whatsoever, as Manitoba and Alberta have already done voluntarily. But this option was not endorsed.

The other six recommendations set to be adopted are neither prescriptive nor controversial, and will have fewer practical consequences for consumers. They concern listing practices, e-commerce portals, and other changes to pricing and sales practices at liquor control boards.

The recommendations do not affect online direct-to-consumer sales, the restrictions for which remain unchanged.

This move also does not apply to businesses with commercial liquor licenses, which have their own separate sets of rules.

In Thursday night’s deal, provinces and territories have agreed to amend their necessary legislation or regulations within 18 months, meaning that by 2020 it should be easier for Canadian consumers to browse for booze across interprovincial borders.

It’s expected to go to the premiers early in their deliberations on Friday morning for their final approval. An announcement could follow shortly after.

Published at Fri, 20 Jul 2018 04:00:00 -0400