Province deserves a modicum of credit for beverage funding announcement

Credit to Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith must be paid after he and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman visited Prince Edward County Friday and ended season-long hand wringing and anxiety amongst Ontario’s smaller scale wineries and reinstated -at least for this year- the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Wine Support program.

After the province announced this spring they were halting the rebate program that allowed small wineries to recover 35 per cent of the import tax paid by Ontario producers that sell at the LCBO, there was much outcry in the sector.

These annual rebate payments paid to Ontario’s wine producers are a key revenue line item that are especially crucial for those with less vines than the larger scale wineries in the Niagara region, for example.

Every wine grower in Prince Edward County that markets at LCBO retial outlets likely value the VQA Wine Support program as much as any other revenue stream they might partake in.

According to one local wine producer, Smith visited the winery more than once to hear grower’s concerns about the end of the Program and the MPP brought those concerns to the Ontario Legislature-likely alongside the worries of other vineyard owners and win producers across Ontario who were bending their representatives ear all summer.

Good and fruitful face-to-face communication with local constituents brought about a commitment from the provincial government and, after Friday’s announcement, those harvesting grapes in Prince Edward County vineyards are now able to concern themselves with the task at hand instead of contemplating how they might manage a 30 per cent reduction in revenue next year.

Looking into the way the LCBO levies tax on Ontario-produced vintages and why that selling mechanism charges the same import tax to provincially sourced and bottled wines as imported bottles needs to be examined by the province and a new path forward must be forged if consumers are to enjoy the incredible array of brilliant beverages they do currently.

We assume that’s the direction the Province was heading when they announced the end of the Wine Support program back in the spring and an improved process would likely be welcomed by the sector.

But once again a concerning trend has reared its ugly head.

The stakeholders concerned are outraged by an announced change or cut, rally their sector and decry the treatment they’ve been receiving from the government only to watch a Minister drop by an affected area or business and announce, in effect, ‘OK, we will stick with what is working for now…’.

That’s of course if the sector is lucky. There are also cases where provincial cutbacks and program eliminations haven’t seen an altered course.

Premier Doug Ford’s Conservative party was supposed to be a ‘government in waiting’ but it’s announcements like the one in Prince Edward County last Friday that produce concerns that the plans to change Ontario and regain fiscal responsibility are only half-constructed and much of the re-imaging of the Province is being done on the fly.

There are a number of examples in its short tenure where the Government of Ontario has told the public they are doing away with a program or service. Ultimately and sadly, there’s nothing concrete developed to fill the void of a policy developed by the previous provincial government.It’s one thing to do away with the bloated bureaucracy developed by past Premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne.

But those machinations have the potential to be incredibly damaging to the people and businesses of Ontario if there’s no succession plan in place.

-Jason Parks