HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government says it will change a law that bans small businesses from producing wine and beer in their stores amid a brewing controversy over the practice.
The government said Thursday its Crown liquor corporation will also drop injunctions launched three weeks ago in provincial Supreme Court against Wine Kitz Halifax and Water ‘n’ Wine in New Glasgow.
The government introduced regulatory changes in 2011 giving the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. the authority to seek a court order to prevent businesses from allowing customers to use brew kits on their premises.
The ensuing court case uncorked a torrent of condemnation among opposition parties, entrepreneurs and hobbyists who argued the law was anti-competitive and picked on small businesses.
Employees at Wine Kitz Halifax cheered when they learned of the news.
“I’m thrilled beyond belief because it’s been a bit of a nightmare,” owner Ross Harrington said in an interview.
“I’m really proud of all Nova Scotians. Nova Scotians stood up and made their voice heard.”
But Harrington said the government’s about-face doesn’t soothe the sting of lost business since he stopped offering in-store brewing. He pegged the loss at about $18,000 plus some $10,000 in legal fees.
“To be out of pocket to defend your livelihood and then they admit they’re wrong or they made a mistake, and not compensate me for it?” he said. “That’s just insult to injury.”
Justice Minister Ross Landry said the government will study the law in other provinces and develop new regulations that will allow on-site fermenting.
According to the Nova Scotia government, in-store wine and beer production is permitted in five provinces: Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
“We’ve heard from many Nova Scotians that they want the choice to make wine and beer in a retail setting,” Landry said Thursday in a news release.
“Moving in this direction will also ensure a level playing field for all retailers who want to provide this service to their customers.”
Harrington was skeptical of the government’s motives.
“It’s an about-face to save face. The reality is it’s been handled poorly from the beginning,” he said.
“The NSLC, at the hand of the NDP government, has been unduly empowered to take this action. They’re a huge corporation. I’m not a threat. For them to be so petty, it’s disturbing.”