You’d swear that politicians believe Canadian citizens love being regulated into a corner in every aspect of their lives.
That’s the kind of philosophy that permeates legislation governing trade between provinces. But it turns out, many citizens are getting a little tired of it and would like more freedom when, for example, it comes to purchasing goods.
A hint of this comes out as the Supreme Court gets set to hear the case of New Brunswick resident Gerard Comeau, who was fined in 2012 for bringing in several bottles of liquor and a dozen cases of beer from neighbouring Quebec. The point being made by Comeau’s legal team is that Sec. 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867, mandates that all Canadian goods be admitted freely across the country.
The majority of Canadians are on board with the idea, according to a Montreal Economic Institute poll commissioned by Ipsos Public Affairs. It showed 89 per cent of respondents said Canadians should be able to bring any legal product from one province to another – which is currently illegal when it comes to alcohol. Of the 89 per cent, 72 per cent said they “strongly agree,” while 17 per cent said they “somewhat agree.”
When it comes to alcohol purchases, it’s not hard to see where the incentive to shop across the border enters the equation. In Comeau’s case, the stiff markup in New Brunswick liquor stores made it worthwhile to take a short trip to the province of Quebec, where taxes raked off the top are a lot less.
Setting up monopolies for certain products has been the approach favoured by many provinces – a captive market, with standard, very high prices across the board. That works well, unless the neighbouring province has substantially lower prices, due to how much it is taxed, or a different retail approach.
Beer and wine in Quebec – and Newfoundland and Labrador – have long been available in corner stores. That private retail approach is part of the fabric.
Alberta some years ago privatized liquor sales and according to reports it resulted in generally lower prices and better variety.
Other provinces, however – Nova Scotia among them – prefer to strictly monopolize sales through government-run corporations. They control prices and – to hell with free enterprise – want to tell citizens where they can buy product and how much they can take along when travelling.
It’s not a matter of safety. Provinces with a freer distribution model still have the same laws when it comes to consumption of the product and who is allowed to buy it. Critics pan current laws as a hangover of prohibition-era mentality.
The thing is, a lot of people see the same approach carrying on as the country aims to legalize marijuana by the middle of next year. Despite many calls to allow private sector involvement, several provinces have said they’ll go with the same monopolized model as liquor sales. We can expect more of the same old, same old.