B.C. challenges Alberta's ban on wine over pipeline expansion dispute

Bottles of British Columbia wine on display at a liquor store in Cremona, Alta., Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. The British Columbia government has launched a formal challenge against Alberta's ban on its wines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

VANCOUVER - The British Columbia government has launched a formal challenge against Alberta's ban on its wines.

B.C. said Monday it has notified Alberta that it is formally requesting consultations under the Canadian free trade agreement's dispute settlement process.

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

"These actions are inconsistent with Alberta's obligations under the (trade agreement) and we will protect our reputation and the interests of British Columbians," he said in a statement.

The wine ban is part of an impasse between B.C. and Alberta over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The dispute began shortly after B.C. Premier John Horgan's government announced a proposal to limit shipments of diluted bitumen while it studies the environmental impact of a potential spill. B.C. is also appealing a National Energy Board decision that allowed Kinder Morgan Canada to bypass local regulations during construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Alberta Trade Minister Deron Bilous responded to word of the dispute settlement process on Monday, saying the wine boycott came in response to B.C.'s actions.

"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," Bilous said in a statement.

He said the ban is a reasonable response to an unreasonable attack on the Canadian economy.

"We defend our actions vigorously on behalf of working people."

On Friday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley threatened to ratchet up the pressure on B.C. if the impasse continues.

Alberta believes B.C.'s actions will effectively kill Kinder Morgan Canada's pipeline expansion, which the province deems critical to getting a better price for its oil.

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

Notley says the federal government — not B.C. — has the final say on what is transported through interprovincial pipelines.

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

B.C.'s wine industry employees about 12,000 people and the province is home to 929 vineyards with over 350 licensed wineries.

The province says the annual economic impact of the industry is $2.8 billion.

Under the rules of the trade partnership agreement, a dispute can be referred to binding arbitration after all other means to resolve the problem have been taken.

Two members of a three-member panel are chosen by each province and they have to agree on a third member to act as a chairperson.

The full costs of the action can be charged to the losing province and if the province doesn't fix the problem within the time set out by the panel, it can be fined up to $5 million.

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