Okanagan Spirits, other small players ignored while feds spend millions overseas on sanitizer

Small distillers shut out

While a Vernon distillery has spent almost $500,000 of its own money providing free hand sanitizer to frontline and health-care workers, the federal government coughed up millions to import the product from overseas this year.

Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery, which is based in Vernon and also has an outlet in Kelowna, switched a large portion of its production capacity to hand sanitizer back in March "because it was the right thing to do," says company spokesman Tyler Dyck.

Hand sanitizer and toilet paper were hot commodities in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and store shelves were stripped bare.

Dyck's distillery was one of 12 across the province to produce the sought-after product.

So far, the business has spent about $480,000 producing more than 75,000 bottles of sanitizer, Dyck told Castanet News on Monday.

And just a day later, the CBC revealed the federal government has paid $375 million to bring in sanitizer from outside Canada while shutting out smaller players who jumped in to help at the beginning of the pandemic.

Dyck, president of the Craft Distillers Guild of B.C., says he was shocked by the news.

"Just wow ... unbelievably shocking," he said Wednesday of the revelation. "This after saying they were going to support Canadian industry and called on industries to do what we could to help out.

"Instead, they spent millions outside Canada on for-profit ventures and chose to ignore Canadian industry that was already doing this at its own cost and keeping people employed."

Dyck says he's received calls and emails from fellow distillers across the country who are "disgusted" by the news.

He says, basically, big multinationals "waited on the sidelines until someone signed a cheque ... it's extremely disappointing."

Meanwhile, he has been pushing for nine months to get the provincial government to cover distillers' costs in producing the sanitizer.

"I'm still waiting, still hopeful," he said.

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