26.9 C
Niagara Falls
Monday, May 20, 2024
Opinion: Doing more to support our wine and beer industries
Wayne Gates Richard Harley/File

Wayne Gates
Special to The Lake Report

Over my 10 years and four terms as the MPP representing Niagara-on-the-Lake, I have been proud to work alongside key stakeholders and area businesses in our wine and beer sector to support the growth and success of the industry. 

I want to share how some of the good work we have been doing together has paid off — and some of my plans for future reforms to continue to support the industry. 

We know how critical the wine industry is for our economy, job growth and heritage in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

We know Niagara is responsible for 80 per cent of the country’s total grape and wine production and that it has huge impacts on other businesses in NOTL — including the Shaw Festival, area restaurants and heritage attractions such as Fort George. 

However, we know that historically, growth in our wine industry has lagged behind similar jurisdictions in British Columbia. We also know there remain many hurdles to continued success and growth.

That is why I have worked diligently over the last several years to introduce legislation to eliminate the 6.1 per cent basic tax on all on-site retail sales of wines with 100 per cent Ontario grapes and VQA wines.

Last month’s provincial budget finally eliminated that tax.

The levy was not applied to foreign-imported wines, so this reform provides equal opportunity for Ontario wine.

I worked with local stakeholders, including local wine producers like Big Head Wines and Southbrook Vineyards, and stakeholder organizations like the Wine Growers Ontario and Ontario Craft Wineries, to introduce legislation to end the tax a total of three times.

And I’m glad to say our hard work paid off. This was an important reform.  

It’s a big win for everybody in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and I’m proud of the work we have done. But there is more still to do. 

We need to the provincial government to do a better job, quite frankly, of investing in post-secondary education and infrastructure to support the local economy.

Partners like Brock University and Niagara College employ more than 8,400 people, and their research and education into the wine industry has an enormous positive impact. 

We also need more sustainable infrastructure, in particular, two-way, all-day, every day, GO train service to Niagara.

And we need to support key local employers like the Shaw Festival in their All.Together.Now campaign — the beneficial relationship between employers like the Shaw and the wine industry is a two-way street. 

We also know how vital protecting the Greenbelt is for preserving the industry. It’s also the right thing to do in order to leave a healthy environment for our kids and grandkids.

I have been a proud champion for the environment as MPP.  Unfortunately, we know the record of Doug Ford’s government in attacking the Greenbelt and the lack of support they have given to our farmers.

We must ensure we hold the government accountable, as we have over the last two years, in preserving the Greenbelt and protecting arable land across Ontario.

Finally, we must do more to support our craft beer industry. First and foremost, we must address the regulatory hurdles that stifle the growth of small breweries.

The current system, with its complex licensing procedures and restrictive distribution regulations, disproportionately favours larger players in the market. We need to level the playing field by streamlining the licensing process for small brewers and promoting fair access to distribution channels.

It’s also high time we re-evaluated the taxation policies that burden our local breweries. Skyrocketing taxes on beer production not only squeeze the margins of small businesses but also drive up prices for consumers.

By implementing tax incentives and reducing excise duties for craft breweries, we can foster a more competitive environment that encourages growth and innovation.

Working together, like we did on my legislation to eliminate the 6.1 per cent wine tax, we can support good jobs, help small business, grow the local economy and protect our natural heritage.

It’s a win-win-win — so let’s work together and get this accomplished. 

Wayne Gates is the NDP member for the provincial riding of Niagara Falls.

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