No fruit wine at Ontario local farmers’ markets

Its a sad day for fruit winemakers and fruit wine lovers in Ontario. Fruit wines won’t be coming to an Ontario farmers’ market after all.

Tory MPP Bob Runciman, outraged his private member’s bill was shot down by the Liberal-dominated Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills on Wednesday, accused the provincial government of putting the interest of major alcohol producers over those of Ontario farmers.

“The only people that expressed concern about it at the committee hearings were big business, the spirit producers and the importers of alcohol products,” Runciman said. “The Liberals supported it on second reading and then when it came to committee they supported the big businesses and the big donors, I’d say.

“I thought it was a display of duplicity that shattered the hopes and dreams of an awful lot of people in rural Ontario,” he said.

Runciman said four provinces and most U.S. jurisdictions near Ontario allow for the sale of local fruit wines in farmers’ markets.

Permitting the same practice in this province would have provided a potential sideline business for farmers who have been struggling in recent years.

“It would have been 100% Ontario product,” Runciman said.

John Rufa, owner of Kawartha Country Wines was at Queen’s park for the decision. His hopes to sell his varieties of fruit wine at area farmers’ markets remain corked now that Bill 132 was squashed.

He said lobby groups worried about possible profit losses are the reason that the bill got torpedoed on Wednesday.

“The LCBO wants absolutely no change because they’ve got a good thing going,” he said. “They don’t want any additional wine sales anywhere else. They want 100% of all the sales. If the LCBO is against it, then the government will be against it.”

Although the LCBO has not publicly pronounced itself against the bill, I would dare to say that they may see it as a major threat to their way of conducting their agenda in the province. This site is a very interesting source of LCBO issues and very relevant to this opinion of a threat.

Progressive Conservative MPP Bob Runciman, who introduced Bill 132 last year, is outraged the Liberal-dominated Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills shot it down after it passed second reading.

He’s now accusing the provincial government of putting the interest of major alcohol producers over those of Ontario farmers.

“The way they acted in the committee was really upsetting,” he said. “They wouldn’t explain why they voted that way.”

“This is something that could have helped the rural economy in a multitude of ways,” he said.

Both Rufa and Runciman said some vocal lobby groups and political donors, including the LCBO’s union, Spirits Canada and the Ontario Imported Wine- Spirit-Beer Association, spoke against the bill.

Jan Westcott, president of Spirits Canada, and Ian Campbell, executive director of imports association, could not be reached for comment.

Some of the groups argued that the legislation would open the door to alcohol sales in corner stores or it could raise serious trade issues, Runciman said.

“They suggested this was a Trojan Horse to get alcohol into grocery stores,” he said. “I don’t have a secret agenda here. I just know fruit farmers are struggling.”

Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal, a supporter of the fruit wine bill, says “political game playing” is the real reason for the bill’s defeat.

“This was a political game that was played,” he said. “If the Conservatives hadn’t killed my bill two weeks earlier at the same committee, Mr. Runciman’s bill would have been approved on Wednesday.”

Leal’s private member’s bill, Bill 96, was an effort to protect personal RRSPs from creditors in the event someone goes into bankruptcy.

“I’m very angry that they killed my bill,” he said. “It was strictly vengeance. It was awful.”

Although he wasn’t part of the committee that voted down the fruit wine bill, Leal said his fellow Liberals took their revenge out on Runciman’s legislation.

“This is the kind of toxic environment we’ve been operating in through the last month,” Leal said.

But, Leal says, all the political game playing actually stems from the passing of Bill 218, the comprehensive tax overhaul that included the controversial harmonized sales tax (HST).

The bill created a single 13% sales tax despite strong objections and delaying tactics by the Opposition.

“What really disappoints me about all this is we should be mature enough to set aside various differences over issues,” he said. “It seems to me, Ontarians expect us to be grown-up enough to separate various issues.”

“(Leal’s) a Liberal, so he knows best why his colleagues did what they did,” he said. “(Killing a bill for revenge) would be hard to swallow if that’s the case. That’s quite a confession.”

Leal said he strongly encourages Runciman to re-introduce the fruit wine bill again when the house returns in February.

“I am tremendously supportive of that bill because it would give (fruit wine producers) a real opportunity at farmers’ markets, and Peterborough has two of the most active markets in the province of Ontario,” he said.

The fruit wine legislation would have meant significant economic impact, Leal said, and allowed for increased promotion and distribution of the products.

Runciman said four provinces and most U. S. jurisdictions near Ontario already allow for the sale of local fruit wines in farmers’ markets.

Currently in Ontario, fruit farmers can operate wine retail stores at their production sites, and fruit wine manufacturers are encouraged to sell their products directly to bars and restaurants.

But Rufa says the fee the LCBO collects off every transaction makes the sale pointless.

“We’re limited to selling our wines only from our farms. We can’t sell anywhere else,” Rufa said. “And if we sell our wines to a restaurant, bar or hotel, it is deemed an LCBO sale, and we have to pay the LCBO a 58% penalty off the top.”

That works out to $5.80 in the LCBO’s pocket on a $10 bottle of wine, he said.

“That’s what really hurts,” he said. “The penalty is so great we don’t do it.”

Here is the government proceeding that killed the potential for Ontario fruit winemaker:

My take on this whole thing: shame on the government to be so short sighted and obviously show it preference for big business mediocrity over assisting regular folks who create quality and unique products that define a region and sets it apart….

Excerps of this story were taken from articles in the Peterborough Examiner and Toronto Sun

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