B.C. Jobs, Trade and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston and Premier John Horgan. (B.C. government)

B.C. files challenge to Alberta wine trade ban

First formal dispute under Canadian Free Trade Agreement

The B.C. NDP government is using an interprovincial trade deal reached under the previous government to challenge Alberta’s move to block B.C. wine at the border.

It’s the first action under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement’s dispute resolution system, said Bruce Ralston, B.C.’s jobs, trade and technology minister. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley surprised B.C. by announcing the wine ban shortly after the B.C. government announced its plan to restrict diluted bitumen transport via an expanded TransMountain pipeline from Alberta to southwestern B.C. port facilities.

“Alberta’s action threatens the livelihood of families that have worked so hard to build B.C.’s world-class wine industry,” Ralston said. “These actions are inconsistent with Alberta’s obligations under the CFTA, and we will protect our reputation and the interests of British Columbians.”

Speaking to reporters after the filing, Ralston said the action has to be filed within 120 days of a suspected violation, and B.C. has a solid case that barring its wine from Alberta stores isn’t allowed. The initial discussion is between provincial officials and there is a “strong possibility” it could be solved without being referred for a ruling, he said.

“What we’re concerned about now is the opportunity to discuss this issue and to dialogue with the government of Alberta about the issues that are raised,” Ralston said.

Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have insisted that B.C. does not have the authority to hold up a pipeline project that falls under federal jurisdiction.

RELATED: B.C. files new court action against pipeline project

B.C. Liberal critic Jas Johal said Alberta is retaliating against an NDP government acting like a “banana republic” trying to change the rules of a pipeline project after it has been approved.

The previous B.C. Liberal government pushed to open up trade between provinces, establishing its own agreement with Alberta and Saskatchewan that came to be known as the New West Partnership. It bound provinces to permit free flow of goods and labour across provincial borders, and became the basis for the broader CFTA.

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