Madam Speaker, I would like to take a moment to congratulate my colleague from Okanagan—Coquihalla for his excellent work on this legislation. He has certainly been a strong advocate for his riding and the many excellent wineries and vineyards of which his constituents are so proud.
I would also like to take time to acknowledge the contributions and the hard work of the member for Kelowna—Lake Country, whose efforts have been essential to the strong progress of the bill.
As other speakers have already noted, there are many compelling reasons to support my hon. colleague's private member's bill.
I would first like to start with a short story. I am a member from British Columbia. My parents lived in Ontario and they would come out for a visit every summer. As part of their treat, and part of what they did during the summer, they explored some of the wonderful wineries around our province. We found a sparkling wine that was of particular joy to our pallets. For many years during their visits, this wine helped us celebrate births, different activities and celebrations. When they were in British Columbia, we always enjoyed this sparkling white wine.
I thought it would be nice to have this sparkling white wine when it came time to celebrate their 50th anniversary in Ontario. I did not know at the time about the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act. It turned out to be an absolutely impossible task to provide the sparkling white wine for this festive event. I was quite surprised to learn that.
Why was that such a challenge? It really goes back to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act that dates back to the days of the temperance movement.
Unfortunately, the outdated provisions of the IILA have serious consequences for Canadian consumers and businesses. We are lagging behind our major trading partners on this important issue. The United States struck down barriers to direct consumer sales back in 2005. As long as certain provisions of the IILA stay in place, Canadian consumers will remain at a distinct disadvantage by not having access to wines from across Canada. Furthermore, this legislation intrudes into areas of provincial responsibility, an area where this government has no desire to be and does not belong. Our preference is simply to get out of the way and let the provinces go about their business in areas of their jurisdiction.
That is why the amendment only deals with the federal aspects of the prohibition-era law, which restricts the movement of wine across provincial boundaries.
Bill C-311 would ensure that provinces would maintain the ability to set policy regarding provincial exemptions on wine importation. They would be free to enhance or expand the interprovincial trade in wine as they saw fit.
There are also practical considerations related to this bill. For instance, although the IILA provides penalties for non-compliance, the law is challenging for the federal government to enforce. The proposed changes will make the IILA more relevant to the current travel practices of Canadians and will remove an unenforced section of law.
More to the point, our government's goal is to reduce, not create or maintain, barriers to provincial trade. We are working closely with our provincial and territorial counterparts to advance this goal.
However, the bill is not solely about governments' rights and responsibilities. It is fundamentally about giving consumers greater choice.
Currently, Canadians do not have easy access to made in Canada wines, which are internationally recognized as being the best in the world. Even though Canadian wines win awards around the globe, they are often not available outside the provinces in which they are produced. Liquor boards have limited space shelf and have tried to expand choice through private order programs, but they can be slow and costly. As in the case I was relaying earlier, it was just so cumbersome and burdensome that it was not worth the time and effort.
These costs are also a deterrent to the wine industry, especially small and medium-sized businesses trying to get a foothold in the marketplace. The wine industry is growing all across Canada beyond the well-known locations such as British Columbia and Ontario. Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are all involved in the wine-making business as they diversify their economies. These fledgling firms need our support, not government interference. Of all the arguments in favour of Bill C-311, few matter more to business people than the potential economic spinoffs of this legislation. This is particularly true in British Columbia, one of the most important wine regions in Canada.
To appreciate the importance of the sector to the provincial economy, let me provide a broad overview of the industry and members will see how much is at stake.
The wine industry in British Columbia is one of the fastest growing agri-food sectors. In 1988, B.C. was home to just 14 wineries. Today it boasts almost 200 wineries, 710 vineyards, producing 60 different varieties of grapes.
Or put another way, British Columbia now has 9,100 acres under vine, up from just 1,000 acres planted in 1989. People will find crops in all five wine growing regions of the province including the Okanagan, Similkameen and Fraser Valley as well as Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. In fact, I am proud to say that the wine industry is also of growing importance in my riding of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.
Tourism across the province greatly benefits from the promotion of B.C.'s wine sector and it provides added value to visitors from around the world. Events such as Sun Peaks winter wine festival serve to cross promote our excellent regional wine as well as other attractions available in the region.
To translate these numbers into production volumes, one-third of Canada's grapes are grown in the province. The value of these crops is $40 million annually.
Let us extrapolate those to jobs in the province. The swelling ranks of people employed in both growing and harvesting the crops, hosting festivals and visitors and other related industries is extensive. Everything from festival planning to wine barrel production revolve around B.C. wineries.
Along with the growth in the sector has come exceptional skill. In 2010, B.C.'s maturing wine industry won over 1,600 medals in competitions around the globe. The province is especially recognized for its outstanding dessert wines.
This success is attracting global attention. According to Sotheby's International Realty Canada, people are coming from all over the world to see B.C.'s wine success story for themselves. It cites the examples of the Okanagan Valley, which is increasingly attracting international visits to its growing wine tourism region as well as its spectacular lake and scenery. It is worth noting that the Okanagan Valley has been named a Frommer's Top Travel Destination, a prestigious global ranking.
In addition to boutique wineries, tours and festivals, upscale restaurants, championship golf courses and luxury hotels, all cater to wine tourists. Many of these individuals fall in love with the idea of having their own vineyard. As a reflection of this interest, Sotheby's has created a distinct Vineyard Collection to market wine-related properties, drawing prospective buyers from as far afield as China, Italy and Germany.
A further spinoff of this interest and attention is a growing export market. Demand for high quality B.C. wines internationally has led to a nearly 300% increase in exports to Asia since 2008. Similarly, Canadians are free to purchase imported wines from other countries. How ironic that we cannot have access to these quality products grown right in our own backyard.
Even if Canadians buy wines on site when visiting wineries in other provinces, they are not permitted by the IILA to bring those purchases back home with them. Yet they can bring foreign wines through the border when they travel outside the country.
Consumers of domestic wines should not be shortchanged by the outdated Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, a problem that this private member's bill will finally address. For the first time in nearly a century, it will be possible for wine producers to sell their products openly and freely into other provinces in keeping with provincial laws. Unlike the 1920s, they have access to modern technologies like the Internet that make such sales simple and cost-effective. At the click of a mouse, even the most discerning wine palate could be satisfied with an award winning wine produced by Canadian vintners.
I call on all members to lend their support to this worthy and long overdue legislative change. Canada's wine makers are counting on it.