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BC challenges Alberta's ban on wine over pipeline expansion dispute

Last Updated Feb 19, 2018 at 4:48 pm PDT


BC says it is formally requesting consultations under Canadian free trade agreement's dispute settlement process

Alberta's trade minister says BC is taking "direct aim" at jobs, economic security of hundreds of thousands of Canadians

VANCOUVER – The BC government has launched a formal challenge against Alberta’s ban on its wines.

BC says it has notified Alberta that it is formally requesting consultations under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement’s (CFTA) dispute settlement process.

Trade Minister Bruce Ralston said Alberta’s actions threaten the livelihood of the families that have worked to build BC’s wine industry.

“In the legal sense, their action is illegal. It discriminates against BC Wine and we have a strong legal case under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement,” Ralston said. “We will protect our reputation and the interests of British Columbians.”

BC Premier John Horgan made a reference to BC wine in a video he posted on Twitter on Sunday.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley recently announced the ban on BC wine, saying she wants progress on an impasse with British Columbia over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The dispute began shortly after BC Premier John Horgan’s government announced a proposal to restrict increased shipments of diluted bitumen while it studies the environmental impact of a potential spill. BC is also appealing a National Energy Board decision that allowed pipeline builder Kinder Morgan Canada to bypass local regulations in the construction of its pipeline.

Alberta Trade Minister Deron Bilous has responded to BC’s challenge, saying the province will not back down.

“The Government of British Columbia is taking direct aim at the jobs and economic security of hundreds of thousands of Canadians – including tens of thousands of British Columbians – by threatening to limit what can go inside a pipeline – which they don’t have the authority to do,” he said in a written statement.

Bilous adds Alberta’s decision to boycott BC wine is a “direct response to BC’s actions.”

“It is a reasonable response to an unreasonable attack on the Canadian economy. We will defend our actions vigorously on behalf of working people.”

On Friday, Notley threatened to ratchet up the pressure if BC doesn’t reverse its decision to ban the increased shipping of bitumen off its coast pending the review of spill safety measures.

Alberta believes BC’s move will effectively kill Kinder Morgan Canada’s pipeline expansion, which the province deems critical to getting a better price for its oil. The project has already received federal approval.

Federal officials have been meeting with their counterparts in BC to find a solution to the dispute.

Notley says the federal government – not BC – has the final say on what is transported through interprovincial pipelines.

She has also ended talks to buy more electricity from BC and struck a 19-member committee to find ways to put further pressure on British Columbia.

In a statement, the BC Wine Institute said it is grateful for the BC government’s actions.

“We are hopeful for a favourable result. However, given the lengthy process that a challenge through the Canadian Free Trade Agreement’s (CFTA) dispute settlement process will take, we continue to ask the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to lift the unfair ban and allow the free trade of BC wines into Alberta,” the statement said.

Policy analysts; BC’s case has weight but both sides entrenched

Under the CFTA, provinces can reserve the right to restrict certain goods coming in and out of their borders.

“Alberta has the right under the agreement to restrict entry of alcoholic beverages, because it reserved the right for itself to do that, but it can’t discriminate against BC in doing that. It would basically have to restrict against everybody,” C.D. Howe research vice president Daniel Schwanen said.

At the very least, BC’s complaint will force the two sides to the discussion table, Schwanen said, but it may be months before a resolution is made.

David Moscrop, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University, says both sides have dug in and are unlikely to back down any time soon.

“In some sense this is an identity-forming matter for every single person involved,” Moscrop said. “So for them the stakes are extremely high so there’s going to be very little incentive in any corner to back down and compromise.”