The past two weeks have been amongst the most challenging I have yet to encounter in Parliament, largely on account of working to get my private member’s bill passed in the House of Commons and onto the Canadian Senate. Beyond Ottawa, this is an issue that has been a thorn in the side of Okanagan wine producers for many decades. Each summer literally thousands of visitors come to the Okanagan; our beautiful wineries has increased the depth of the Okanagan Brand and enhanced our reputation as a regional tourist destination. The frustration of not being able to sell wine to visitors from out of province, so that they can legally take back home means facing either a loss of income or potentially having to break a Federal law if you are a winery owner. While this 1928 prohibition era law has created a chill over the wine industry, many people are also surprised that as consumers they are also subject to this law. While it has not been actively enforced for consumers, even taking one bottle of wine across a Provincial border is an illegal act that has penalties including fines and potentially jail time.
Over the last nine months of battling to bring this Bill through Parliament, I did not once come across a Canadian who did not support these efforts that help support our Canadian wine industry or in bringing common sense into our laws in Ottawa. Throughout this process I have also learned of the Provincial regulatory red tape that has also worked against the Canadian wine industry. While the BC Government has been largely proactive over the past decade, other jurisdictions have fallen behind. I realize that a few have suggested this industry should be ignored however here in the Okanagan we have watched firsthand how the art of producing premium wine has evolved to create jobs and spin off industries in a manner that also supports our unique location and enjoyable climate. What is important to recognize is how regulatory red tape, often many decades old, can create economic barriers that hold back not just the wine industry but many other industries as well. What was unique about this particular wine industry challenge is that part of the solution was within the realm of a private members bill whereas other industries have more complex regulatory hurdles to overcome. Recently a major private sector employer was very close to having to close the doors and layoff a large number of highly skilled workers.
The reason for the closure was not because the business was not profitable but rather regulatory ownership restrictions threatened the viability of the operation. In another smaller Okanagan community a local manufacturing company is currently struggling to avoid layoffs as well. In that circumstance some key projects that the company depends upon for survival have been delayed. Currently many of our regulatory review processes are both inefficient and unaccountable. That might sit well for those who frequently oppose projects, however it could be a family member, a neighbour or a family you have never met before who could be devastated by the loss of a job and the resulting unemployment.
This week the House of Commons is moving towards extended hours as the debate, delays, amendments and filibusters are expected to be at a premium before the House rises at the end of June. I know that many Canadians will be following these debates perhaps more closely than in years prior and I view that as a positive. There are likely to be some votes that Canadians agree upon and others where there will be strong disagreement. On a personal note I am hearing daily from taxpayers with very different but important views. Throughout this process I will be supporting common sense and bringing more flexibility into our various regulatory processes. I realize that this may not sit well with some, however I am also mindful of the need to take proactive action that keeps jobs in our local communities. I do not believe we should become complacent or take jobs for granted and more so during challenging economic times in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached at [email protected]
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.