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Mar. 6, 2021 | Saturday
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Campaign to cut wine tax gathering steam
Richard Linley, president of Ontario Craft Wineries, is pleased with response to petition. (Supplied)

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition calling on the provincial government to eliminate a 6.1 per cent tax on wine sold at wineries. 

The petition was launched by Ontario Craft Wineries and their president, Richard Linley, says, “The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we are really appreciative of the support for our wineries.”

Linley said the tax, which is charged on every bottle of wine sold at the cellar door, in addition to other taxes including the HST, punishes small wineries that sell their own wine to the public from their winery premises. “No other retail product pays a tax like this,” he noted.

“The goal is to raise awareness with the government and the public,” he said.

Linley is not alone in advocating for the tax to be eliminated. 

“There’s no reason for this tax,” said Greg Berti, vice-president of global markets, industry relations, & business development for Andrew Peller Limited. 

“It’s a lot of money that could help fill the financial hole created by the COVID crisis, and in future, it would be reinvested,” he said.  

“It’s most frustrating because it’s unfair,” said Andrea Kaiser, chair of the Wineries of NOTL and director of marketing for Reif Estate Winery.

“The provincial government could relieve our unfair tax burden now. It should have been done years ago, then we’d be in a stronger financial position. COVID has exacerbated the situation.”

The wine industry is aligned on this issue and the need for relief has gained urgency. 

“When you look at the devastation in the industry, with restaurants closed, tourism almost non-existent until very recently, it would be very helpful, to help pay some bills now, and as recovery builds, as a stimulus to turn from break even to profit, and eventually leading to reinvestments,” said Del Rollo, vice-president of industry and government relations at Arterra Wines. 

“This is something the government can move on immediately and it would be really meaningful to the industry,” he says.

In addition to the petition and industry lobbying on this issue, political action is planned as well.  

Niagara NDP MPP Wayne Gates says his party will bring forward a bill to eliminate the tax when the legislature resumes sitting in September.

“It should be a non-partisan issue. I hope we can get all-party support for it,” said Gates, adding, “the premier has been visiting Niagara recently, saying we have to buy local to show our support for local businesses, so here’s an opportunity to support Niagara wineries.” 

Finance Minister Rod Phillips was not available for an interview, but a spokesperson from his office, press secretary Emily Hogeveen provided the following comments via email.

“Our government recognizes the toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on Ontario’s wineries and will continue to work with industry to ensure it remains an important part of our province’s economy.”

She said, “The government is reviewing Ontario’s approach to how beverage alcohol is sold in the province and is looking at ways to provide more choice and access to consumers. We are also committed to evaluating the tax regime as part of the alcohol review.”

Linley said the petition will be submitted to the finance minister. “We’ve heard nothing so far (from government) but we’ll reach out in the coming week.” 

Timing is important, Linley explained, because this tax was temporarily deferred until the end of August as a response to the economic challenges caused by the pandemic, “so we really want the tax eliminated before that date.”

Rollo said the petition and advocacy are important.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. The government is listening to us, though these are challenging times and they have many demands on them right now.” 

Whatever the short term outcome, he said, “We’ll keep fighting.” 

The petition can be found at https://www.change.org/o/ontario_craft_wineries.

 

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