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Campaign generates beer buzz

By | Canoe Sun Media on Sep 11 2015

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The recent trial of New Brunswick resident Gerard Comeau over his unsuccessful attempt to bring 14 cases of Quebec beer into his home province has generated a secondary news wave.

Federal politicians on the campaign trail are scurrying to align themselves with beer drinkers, and to place the blame on somebody else—anybody else—for the ridiculous state of the law.

Comeau and his pro bono lawyers Mikael Bernard and Arnold Schwisberg, supported by the Canadian Constitution Foundation, spent four days in court recently, seeking to persuade Judge Ronald Leblanc that New Brunswick’s import limit on beer from other provinces is unconstitutional. The judge has reserved his decision until April, 2016

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper was the first federal leader to weigh in. He called the trade barrier “ridiculous” and took credit for recent improvements in the federal law.

Then he blamed the provinces for not having done their share by making parallel changes in provincial law.

But both the claim and the blame are inaccurate. It was a 2012 private member’s bill, C-311, introduced by British Columbia MP Dan Albas with the support of all parties, that first loosened up the federal law regarding the interprovincial movement of wine.

It wasn’t until 2014 that the Conservative government jumped aboard the bandwagon and did the same for beer and liquor.

But more importantly, those two legislative changes still did only half the job. They loosened up the highly restrictive Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA), an antiquated federal law dating from the end of Prohibition.

Before the changes, Canadian alcohol producers could ship products to customers outside Canada, but not directly to customers in another province. Now, they can ship within Canada, but only within limits set by the provinces.

What the amending legislation should have done, if federal parliamentarians had really wanted to end a ridiculous law, was to repeal the provincial power to impose limits on imports entirely.

That is, after all, what the Fathers of Confederation set out to do in 1867, according to Mr. Comeau’s expert witness, history professor Andrew Smith.

Justin Trudeau chimed in next. He claimed to support free interprovincial trade in beer, but blamed Stephen Harper for not having made it happen.

However, the federal legislation at the root of the problem, the IILA, was enacted in 1928. Since then, Canada has had 56 years of federal Liberal governance, including 15 years under Mr. Trudeau’s own father Pierre. Why would Stephen Harper suddenly deserve the blame?

As for Tom Mulcair, he hasn’t addressed the issue in any stump speeches that I’ve been able to find, but his principal secretary e-mailed Brian Lilley at The Rebel Media to say that the NDP supports more choice, which is why they supported Bill C-311.

But he too blamed the provinces for not working together to remove trade barriers, instead of promising to make it happen by further amending the IILA if he were elected.

Elizabeth May also spoke up about the Comeau case, calling the situation “crazy”. She refrained from blaming anyone, but she also failed to demonstrate any understanding of the solution.

Having attended Mr. Comeau’s trial and heard the historical evidence and legal arguments, I have far more confidence in the courts to get it right than in any clownish politician.

– Karen Selick is the litigation director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which is supporting the Comeau case through crowdfunding at theccf.ca/freebeer.

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