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Ontario budget misses mark, threatens survival of VQA wineries, OCW says

The Ford government’s failure to provide meaningful relief and immediate tax fairness in its 2020 Budget puts at risk more than 11,000 jobs across rural Ontario, says Ontario Craft Wineries (OCW).

“This government came to office promising desperately needed support to Ontario’s wine-producing job creators. Two years later, they continue to tinker around the edges,” said Carolyn Hurst, co-owner of Westcott Vineyards and current OCW chair. “All we are looking for is an even playing field. Yet small, Ontario VQA wineries continue to be disadvantaged compared to every other wine-producing region in Canada and the rest of the world.”

OCW members have been pleading with the government for years to remove a 6.1% surtax on bottles of wine sold at the cellar door, and eliminate a 35% LCBO levy that effectively treats local wines the same as foreign imports and raises prices for consumers.

Ontario wine

“While deferring the previously announced wine tax increase and changing property tax rates will help, somewhat, the 6.1% surtax and 35% import tax are crushing our members, many of whom may not survive the COVID crisis,” said OCW President Richard Linley. “More than a quarter of small wineries could close, perhaps for good, this winter. We know our local MPPs and the Ministry of Agriculture support us and understand that this would have a devastating impact on wine country communities, but we need the Ministry of Finance to realize this also.”

Ontario’s VQA wine industry pays more than $160 million in punishing surtaxes to provincial coffers each year on 100% Ontario wines. And every bottle of VQA wine sold creates $98.20 in economic impact for the province.

“We understand that the province’s finances are tight. That’s the case everywhere,” said Hurst. “What we’ve been asking for would essentially reduce the extra tax burden paid by our members and save us from going out of business. The government risks losing much more if our members go under. Ontario government policy continues to support the status quo and give imported wine from foreign grape producers tens of millions of dollars’ worth of special treatment.” She added: “It’s utterly frustrating that the government continues to uphold a broken system that gives unfair advantages to large, foreign wine producers over local farm- family wineries that are deeply connected to rural communities.”

More than 10,000 people signed a petition calling for tax fairness, and a grassroots campaign prompted countless Ontarians to express their support to their local member of provincial parliament.

Hurst says members are already considering next moves as a matter of survival