MONTREAL—As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a landmark case on provincial beer and liquor monopolies, a new poll indicates Canadians overwhelmingly want to tear down trade barriers to alcohol—and any other legal product—across the country.
The right-leaning Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) commissioned a poll by Ipsos Public Affairs, which surveyed 1,103 Canadians in an online panel between Oct. 26 and Nov. 1
Eighty-nine 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.”
Provinces such as New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario maintain strict laws limiting the free trade of beer and spirits.
A New Brunswick man learned this the hard way and his case will be heard in front of the country’s highest court Dec. 6-7.
In 2012, the RCMP arrested Gerard Comeau on his return to New Brunswick after he had bought alcohol in Quebec.
He was fined for violating New Brunswick law, which limits the amount of booze that can be brought into the province from elsewhere in Canada.
Comeau contested the ticket, arguing Sec. 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867, mandates that all Canadian goods be admitted freely across the country.
His lawyers argued the fathers of Confederation wanted a single market for all products made in Canada.
The Ipsos poll suggested about 25 per cent of Canadians heard about the Comeau case, and 78 per cent of respondents said the New Brunswick man should win.
Eighty-four per cent of respondents said Canadians should be permitted to order wine from any winery in the country, while 78 per cent said they should be allowed to bring any amount of wine or beer purchased in one province into another province.
Fewer than 15 per cent of respondents said they strongly agreed or somewhat agreed alcohol monopolies should be maintained.
Howard Anglin, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), said provinces continue to enforce “prohibition-era” laws on alcohol because of inertia and fear of change.
The CCF is a charity that raised money to fund the legal team defending Comeau. Anglin said provincial governments can continue to receive the same revenues from alcohol by taxing beer and liquor sales as opposed to running liquor stores.
Alberta privatized its liquor industry and Anglin said the province has “much more variety and selection,” he said.
“Some stores specialize in whiskeys and others in French wines,” he added. “They tend to reflect the owners’ passion and interests.”
A Quebec government report released in 2015 recommended its liquor monopoly be privatized. The province’s auditor general followed up with her own report in 2016 claiming the government-run corporation’s structure prevents it from getting the best prices for consumers.
Quebec’s alcohol monopoly brings in more than $1 billion in revenues that help fund services, making privatization a politically difficult move.
Comeau’s date with the Supreme Court will also likely have an influence on the plans to create provincial cannabis monopolies, according to legal experts.
If the justices rule in Comeau’s favour, the decision will almost certainly trigger lawsuits across the country seeking to dismantle similar government-run corporations for marijuana when it becomes legalized next summer.