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Will B.C. Wine Laws Intoxicate Ontario?

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Not too long ago we were in B.C. for a working vacation.

Starting our trip in Vancouver, a city we've had the good fortune of visiting a few times over the years, we stopped by what's become a favourite Yaletown wineshop specializing in local bottles. It's a gorgeous little store with a tasting bar, weekly wine classes and tastings, and a small, well-trained and exceedingly friendly staff.

Each time we would go, we'd leave a little bit exhilarated and a little bit saddened. Consoling ourselves over a bottle of a new found gem, we would fantasize about the wine shop we would run back home in Ontario if given the chance, and wonder aloud if our province would ever get with the program as B.C. had?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when the Wine Council of Ontario invited us to a briefing to discuss that very possibility. For the last few years, WCO has been conducting studies on the value of opening Ontario's wine market to independent entrepreneurs, who would be licensed to operate their own wine stores in conjunction with the LCBO, similar to B.C.'s successful public/private system.

The group has recently launched a fun education website on this topic, www.mywineshop.ca, where any interested adults can design their own wine retail space; from theme to name — even the location where they'd open it — the website gives John or Jane Q. Public the virtual power to make it happen.

"We really do feel like this is the time," says Hillary Dawson, Wine Council of Ontario president. "If you had probably asked us four or five years ago, we would have responded 'meh, it doesn't feel right,' but it does [now]. This is something they [consumers] want to know more about and something they want to get involved with and to have that many people reach out .... [to] their MPPs already is great news."

The site has a convenient form letter that users can email directly to their MPP endorsing privately-owned wine stores. The site only went live November 19 and at the time of this writing, well over 300 people had contacted their MPPs and nearly 500 people had designed a wine store.

While the Wine Council of Ontario has not set a target for how many people they'd like to see endorse the campaign, Dawson says they're buoyed by the immediate positive response, and do plan on using the numbers garnered to further influence the government to open the market to private entrepreneurs.

Perhaps somewhat serendipitously, about the same time was launched and gaining an immediate ground swell, Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak voiced his thoughts on the matter, possibly making it an election issue, saying Ontarions deserve freedoms of choice and competition.

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