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Quebec ag marketing board to get power to penalize

The Quebec government plans to plug a loophole that allowed an out-of-province maple syrup buyer to make an end-run around the province’s marketing legislation.

Provincial Agriculture Minister Pierre Corbeil on Thursday tabled a bill to amend Quebec’s agricultural, food and fish marketing Act to allow the province’s Regie des marches agricoles (Agricultural and Food Marketing Board) to claim damages where buyers breach the Act.

The loophole was exposed in a Quebec Court of Appeal ruling in September 2010 in favour of Henri Bourgoin, a New Brunswick resident who bought almost 835,000 pounds of maple syrup directly from nine Quebec producers between 2002 and 2005.

The Federation des producteurs acericoles du Quebec had complained to the Regie, which ruled Bourgoin violated provincial marketing legislation and ordered him to pay “liquidated damages” of $1.20 per pound, or just over $1 million.

After the Regie’s ruling was overturned at the appeal court, the federation filed in October last year for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. The country’s top court dismissed the federation’s application in December, awarding costs to Bourgoin.

“Legal stability”

According to the province on Thursday, the appeal court’s ruling was based on the Regie having no legislated authority to enforce the “liquidated damages” clause of a marketing agreement in an instance where there was no agreement in the first place, nor the power to order such a payment.

“In proposing these amendments, we want to reestablish the legal stability and environment in which businesses were developing before the Bourgoin case,” Corbeil said in a release.

The amendments tabled Thursday, if passed, will authorize the Regie to impose “liquidated damages” clauses in marketing agreements and order payment of related penalties, the province said.

The amendments will also retroactively apply to other marketing agreements issued by the Regie and provide for enforcement of orders and penalties previously issued.

“It would not be fair that the law creates a double standard,” Corbeil said.

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