East-West Solidarity

Quebec groups join B.C.-Alberta wine brawl

From Quebec with love: #QCLovesBCWine campaign launches today
Photo: Equiterre / Twitter

On Tuesday afternoon news broke that Alberta’s government would be boycotting B.C. wine. Within hours activists in Quebec, four provinces and half a country away, had lit the bat signal. Email lists and Facebook groups spun up, as members of the province’s powerful anti-pipeline movement sprang into action.

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Last year the Energy East pipeline proposal was withdrawn, marking a big victory for the coalition of Quebec community groups that had been fighting it. But for these activists, the fight isn’t just about preventing spills in their backyard, it’s about fighting climate change.

That’s why when Energy East went down, they promised their allies in B.C. they would keep fighting to block Kinder Morgan as well. But, of course, that’s hard to do from half a country away. Or at least it was until yesterday.

Enter Alberta Premier Rachel Notley with a chest-thumping bravura performance aimed at only one audience — her province’s electors. Furious over the Horgan government’s decision to review the spill risk of the bitumen to be carried by the Kinder Morgan pipeline, a review that would further delay its completion, Alberta’s premier announced that the province would be indefinitely blocking all imports of B.C. wine.

It’s a tough pill for B.C. wineries to swallow, with over $70 million in annual sales to Alberta. But as British Columbians angrily promised to buy more local wine, and activists across the country shared memes promising to buy B.C. wine under the hashtag #PinotNotPipelines, it seemed like this stunt might be starting to backfire.

Don’t mess with Alberta?

Alberta’s famous 1970s bumper sticker line about letting “the eastern bastards freeze in the dark” has seemingly become “let the western bastards drown in their own vino.”

But will the unorthodox economic blockade work? Not if Marie-Ève Leclerc and Anne Céline Guyon have anything to say about it, and over the past few years the two have had a lot to say.

“We’re all in this climate fight together, and we will stand in solidarity with our friends out west as they face threats and boycotts for taking common-sense steps to fight climate change.”

Organizers with the sprawling Coule pas chez nous coalition, they’ve masterminded most of Quebec’s flashiest pipeline actions, from two of the largest climate demonstrations ever held in Canada to last year’s launch of an innovative anti-pipeline beer. A few months ago they toasted the death of one pipeline, and now they’ve got another in their sights.

“We saw this bombshell come out,” explained Leclerc, “and right away we started brainstorming a campaign in response.”

That campaign, launched late Wednesday morning, will ask Quebecers to commit to buying B.C. wine and to post a photo with the hashtag #QCLovesBCWine. Restaurants will also be approached to publicly commit to buying B.C. wine. Several big Quebec groups, including Greenpeace, Equiterre, David Suzuki Foundation, Coule pas chez nous and the RVHQ (another anti-pipeline coalition) launched the challenge to their followers this morning, and activists in Quebec are planning trips to the liquor store today to buy B.C. wine.

“With Valentine’s Day coming up, we wanted to show our love for B.C. in a big way,” explained Leclerc. “We’re all in this climate fight together, and we will stand in solidarity with our friends out west as they face threats and boycotts for taking common-sense steps to fight climate change.”

It remains to be seen how effective this campaign will be, but the widespread popularity of last year’s anti-pipeline beer goes to show that a market exists in Quebec for products with a political message on climate change.

Amateur hour?

Alberta’s announcement may have been intended to strike fear into the hearts of British Columbians, but the initial reaction on social media appeared to be more amusement than anything, as most outside Alberta described the boycott as a counterproductive PR stunt.

Activists largely celebrated the news, seeing it as a misstep that would drive more British Columbians to buy local wine and to oppose the pipeline.

Nick Routley, Vancouver-based creative director at a tech startup called Visual Capitalist, summed up the attitude of many in the province when he tweeted, “Alberta’s #BCWine ban isn’t just counterproductive, it’s going to spike sales and galvanize anti-pipeline sentiment. Amateur-hour move.”

Jeremy Nuttall, parliamentary correspondent for B.C.-based media outlet The Tyee, seemed to be taking the looming trade war in stride when he tweeted jokingly that “B.C. is planning to dynamite the mountain passes at the Alberta border and expropriate the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline to turn it into the world's largest waterslide.”

More seriously, he argued that we may see the B.C. hospitality industry rejecting Alberta products out of solidarity.

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