BRANTFORD, Ont. — Vintners and craft beer makers across Ontario are calling MPPs from all sides to help push through a private member’s bill to get their products more easily into stores.
The lobbying effort is swinging into higher gear after Bill 191, the Raise a Glass to Ontario Act, spearheaded by Todd Smith, the MPP for Prince Edward-Hastings, passed second reading on Feb. 26.
It would amend the Liquor Control Board Act to allow easier access to shelves for small Ontario wineries and breweries.
Clauses in the amending act would allow Ontario wineries and craft breweries to sell each others’ products at their own locations and to set up their own warehousing — all separate from LCBO or The Beer Store outlets.
Smith, a Progressive Conservative, tabled his bill near the end of the last legislative session but it died on the order paper when Kathleen Wynne’s minority Liberal government fell in the spring of 2014.
He reintroduced the bill after the election, and it has gained the support of Liberal MPPs.
Smith is attributing the bill’s successful passage through the legislature this time to a strong lobby of vintners and brewers in his own riding and elsewhere, and receptive MPPs.
Smith points to his own riding, where wineries are proliferating.
“I’ve got 40 wineries, a craft distillery, a craft brewery and a cidery in my riding,” Smith told reporters.
“The access to the marketplace for Ontario products isn’t helping grow the industry. Ontario wines are winning international awards, but they’re having trouble getting wide distribution in Ontario restaurants and at the LCBO.”
Although operations in the well-established Niagara wine region have been finding success in getting on the shelf in greater numbers, vintners in the designated Prince Edward wine region are still finding their access blocked.
So are wineries in the up-and-coming Ontario South Coast region, with operations in Norfolk, Elgin and Middlesex counties.
“This bill will strengthen all domestic wine regions in Ontario, including our own,” Michael McArthur, president of the Ontario South Coast Wineries and Growers Association, said.
“Access to market in Ontario continues to be one of the greatest challenges for the domestic wine industry, given the duopoly for distribution between the LCBO and exclusive grandfathered stores no longer available to newer domestic wineries.”
Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett counts himself a strong supporter of Smith’s bill, from both his representation of a major portion the Ontario South Coast wine growing region and his position as the PC agriculture, food and rural affairs critic.
“This bill will make our province’s agriculture, wine and beer industries stronger,” Barrett said.
“To cut to the chase, we do more than grow food. We process it into value-added products, market it and deliver it too. We can do everything.”
Barrett contends that with the LCBO and the Beer Store, the government keeps barriers in place to selling Ontario products.
“This bill will cut through this and cut through red tape,” he said.
The bill is on its way to the finance committee for further study. If it goes ahead, it could be included in the spring budget.