06/07/2012 01:09 EDT | Updated 08/07/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. opens up liquor imports from other provinces

British Columbians can now bring liquor back into B.C. from other Canadian provinces and territories without paying additional taxes — but a decision on whether or not wine can flow freely across all provincial boundaries hangs on the fate of a bill currently on its way through the federal parliament.

The B.C. minister responsible for the Liquor Distribution Branch, Rich Coleman, announced Thursday that previous restrictions have been relaxed and B.C. residents can now bring back up to one case of wine, four bottles of spirits, and a combined total of six dozen beer, cider and coolers from other provinces for personal consumption. The amendments bring B.C in line with exemptions permitted by Ontario, Nova Scotia and the Yukon, Coleman said.

In a related development, a federal private member's bill ending the restrictions on carrying wine across provincial borders for personal consumption has passed a major hurdle in Parliament.

On Wednesday night, bill C-311 passed third reading in the House of Commons with unanimous support. It now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

That means it could be signed into law by the Governor General just in time for the summer tourism season at Canadian wineries.

Under the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, it is illegal in Canada, with a few exceptions, to carry alcohol over interprovincial boundaries.

Small wineries have long complained the restriction prevents tourists and vinophiles from legally taking home a few bottles from their favourite vineyards.

The new bill would amend the prohibition-era act to allow people to transport wine across provincial borders, but only for personal use. It will also allow vineyards to ship wine by post or courier to customers in other provinces.

Wine can already be shipped between provinces for commercial sale, but only through the provincial regulators, and many smaller vineyards say they are left out of that trade because they don't produce enough product to interest the marketers.

Winemakers support changes

Vintner Sandra Oldfield, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, sees potential for her business to grow if Canadians outside of B.C. are allowed to buy her wine.

"It's hard to build a relationship with somebody in another province if you can't send them the wine. So I'm hoping for us this really means that we can get Canadians drinking more Canadian wine."

But passage of the bill will not clear out all obstacles for wine lovers. Some provincial regulations will still remain in place. In Ontario, for example, the LCBO still limits amounts of alcohol people can bring into the province for personal consumption.

The bill was introduced by Conservative MP Dan Albas, who represents the riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla, the heartland of B.C.'s rapidly expanding wine industry. Albas introduced the bill last October and shepherded it all the way through the House of Commons.

"We should be trying to take down these barriers to make it as easy to sell to someone in Alberta as it is to sell to someone in China," said Albas after the bill passed.

The bill was expected to be passed by the House last week, just in time for the summer break. But at the final hour it was blocked when the NDP talked out the clock on the debate.

The party later apologized for what they called a miscommunication and the bill was given a second chance on Wednesday night when Liberal MP Scott Brison offered his time slot for the debate.