Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Harry Rakowski: Canada should keep its Supreme Court free of corrosive politics

Commentary

The elevation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court as the first Black and only sixth female justice represents an historic milestone. As I watched part of her questioning by the Judiciary Committee, I came away impressed with her poise, intelligence, sense of humour, and fairness. There seemed to be little doubt about her qualifications, yet her confirmation was far from certain.

The unfounded attacks by Republican Senators and distortion of her record as a judge were painful to watch. Senator Murkowski, a voice of reason, said that her decision as only one of three Republicans who voted to affirm partly rested on her rejection of “the corrosive politicization of the review process for Supreme Court nominees, which on both sides of the aisle, is growing worse and more detached from reality by the year.”For Murkowski, the decision to support Jackson came amid a fraught political campaign.

There can be little doubt that Jackson is highly qualified based on her training, qualifications, and record. While her appointment provides much needed balance to the court, it is her overall standing, skills, and record that justifies her confirmation.

There was a time when approval of qualified justices was nearly unanimous regardless of the perception of whether they were more liberal or conservative. In 1986 Antonin Scalia was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in a 97 to 0 vote and In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was confirmed by a 96 to 3 vote. These two justices often represented polar opposites in their viewpoints, yet were great friendsWhat we can learn from Ginsburg’s friendship with my father, Antonin Scalia by Eugene Scalia and admirers, even in dissent.

Confirmation to the court is not guaranteed. Since the founding of the Supreme Court in 1789, presidents have submitted 165 nominations for the CourtSupreme Court Nominations (1789-Present) and of these 127 were confirmed and seven decided not to serve. Some nominations were rejected because of the quality of the nominee and a number because of partisan concern about how they might vote on key issues. The purposeful delay in voting on the highly qualified Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy created by Antonin Scalia’s death and Neil Gorsuch’s ultimate confirmation by a new president further poisoned the process. Democratic Party suggestions to expand and pack the court with their nominees are equally damaging.

An independent, fair and balanced judiciary is a cornerstone of democracy. It provides an important check on the executive and legislative branches of government and is the arbiter of the law of the land.

To date, the process of Supreme Court appointments in Canada is based on merit, with little controversy. The prime minister, with advice from legal experts, considers proposed qualified nominees and sends their selection to the Governor General for approval. There is no mandated debate or House of Commons vote, however, the process works because of the history of relatively apolitical appointments.

Justice Michael Moldaver has announced that he will retireSupreme Court Justice Michael Moldaver to retire Sept. 1 on Sept. 1, close to the mandatory requirement age of 75. Prime Minister Trudeau has initiated a selection process by appointing Wade McLaughlin to chair the Independent Advisory Board For Supreme Court of Canada Judicial Appointments. The deadline for applications is May 13 and the prime minister will choose from the shortlist submitted. Kudos for maintaining a process based more on merit than politics.

Moldaver said that he has served with chief justices who are “persons of honour and integrity, courage and vision, who share a passion for justice and a fervent commitment to maintaining the rule of law.”

In Russia and China, the judiciary is simply the puppet of the repressive and restrictive governments that appoint them. In democracies, our courts need to remain independent to uphold our freedoms and the rule of law. While the process in the U.S. is subject to corrosive politics, let’s hope that the workings of the Court are carried out by passionate defenders of the law, without personal bias and with a collaborative awareness of the importance of their rulings on the fabric of society.

Malcolm Jolley: The world wine trade is returning to normal. Plus, Australian wine recommendations

Commentary

Before we met up in a Toronto hotel coffee shop last week, just a little more than two years had passed since I had looked upon Justin Taylor’s unmediated, smiling face. The last time we had been in the same room was the morning of March 7, 2020, and Taylor was due to head back to Australia that evening after a Canadian tour promoting his family’s line of Wakefield Wines. Taylor is one of my favourite sources of information on what’s happening in Australian wine because he is as open as he is gregarious, and we had been in touch over the pandemic, arranging Zoom interviews over the International Time Zone. But to see him in the flesh was an overdue pleasure and, I hoped, a sign that the world wine trade was finally on its way to a new normal.

Wakefield’s main estate and centre of production is in the Clare Valley in South Australia. It was founded by Justin’s father Bill Taylor (Sr.) in 1969. It’s still very much a family business, and in Australia, it’s known as Taylors, but a certain Portuguese Port concern had trademarked the name elsewhere, and in Canada and much of the world they use the name of the original vineyard. All of this is to say that Justin Taylor, who is in charge of the family’s exports and was born the year the winery was established, brings with him more than a half-century of institutional memory of the modern Australian wine industry.

Taylor explained that the past two years had been more than eventful for the family business, and not just because he was grounded. Not only did Wakefield and their colleagues work through the lockdowns and supply chain interruptions of the initial pandemic, but in March of 2021, the People’s Republic of China imposed tariffs of between 100 and 200 percent on Australian wine.“But in March last year, China decided to impose damaging anti-dumping tariffs on Australian wine of between 116.2 per cent and 218.4 per cent. The tariffs applied to wine sold in containers of 2 litres or less and will remain in place for five years.” https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-18/wto-dispute-on-australian-wine-exports-into-china/100916852 (This followed from Australian criticism of the Chinese government’s human rights record and its call for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.)“Australia more openly criticized China’s encroachments on the South China Sea—vital for Australian shipping—where Beijing built military installations on man-made islands to solidify its contested claim to nearly the entire waterway. Turnbull also grew alarmed by the sums of Chinese money sloshing around Australian politics, spent to sway government policy in China’s favor. That led to new legislation designed to curtail foreign influence. Then in 2018, Turnbull’s government banned Chinese telecom giant Huawei from supplying equipment for Australia’s 5G networks, considering it too much of a security risk to essential infrastructure. Relations really fell off a cliff in April 2020, when current Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak—a prickly issue in Beijing, where such demands are perceived as politically motivated efforts to tarnish China.” https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2021/07/china-australia-america/619544/Taylor said he had six containers of wine en route to China when the measures were announced. Two made it but four were shipped back. They’re not selling wine in the PRC for the foreseeable future, but they managed to keep their staff there to sell to the rest of Asia.

According to Jens Barynin, chief economist at VIVI, a Toronto firm that tracks the global wine trade,Full disclosure: I have consulted for VIVI Economics in the past, and Barynin is a friend. Australian wine exports were in decline, by volume and dollar amount, starting in 2016, even before the pandemic and Chinese tariffs. Since over 60 percent of Australian wine sales are exported Barynin described, in an email, the Australian wine trade as a “survival of the fittest situation”. So why was Justin Taylor smiling?

Taylor explained that Wakefield’s biggest market is domestic, and its biggest export market is New Zealand, which by antipodean standards is pretty close. He also explained that in export markets where Wakefield is a “mature brand”, like Canada, they have done very well. He joked that at the start of the pandemic, “It was toilet paper, pasta, and wine, and our sales went through the roof.”

While consumers are no longer hoarding cases of wine, and consumer sales of alcohol are returning to pre-pandemic levels, COVID accelerated the “premiumization” of the wine market whereby wine enthusiasts are drinking less, but better, so that Wakefield’s mid-range to high-range wines account for increasing sales.

That is not to say the negative effects of the pandemic are not completely behind Wakefield or the Australian wine. Supply chain interruptions are still a major headache.“The coronavirus pandemic and its ripple effects have snarled supply chains around the world, contributing to shipping backlogs, product shortages and the fastest inflation in decades. But in a report released Thursday, White House economists argue that while the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain, it didn’t create them — and they warned that the problems won’t go away when the pandemic ends. ‘Though modern supply chains have driven down consumer prices for many goods, they can also easily break,’ the Council of Economic Advisers wrote. Climate change, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters that comes with it, will make future disruptions inevitable, the group said.” https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/14/business/economy/biden-supply-chain.html Transport times have doubled: “It used to take us 12 weeks to get a container of wine to the U.S. or Canada; that’s now 16 to 20 weeks.”

In the end, Taylor expects these problems to eventually work out and is optimistic about the future of Australian wine and Wakefield’s place in it. “I see an opportunity for established, trusted brands in the post-pandemic world; Australian wine is always improving, and we’re getting better with age.”

That evening Justin Taylor put his family’s wines where his mouth was at a tasting dinner he hosted and I attended with about two dozen other Toronto-based wine journalists and “influencers”. Here’s what we tasted. Prices are for Ontario.

Wakefield Estate Chardonnay 2020 ($16.95)

Fruit from Padthaway and Clare Valley. Lean but fancy, in a Burgundian style (more Meursault than Chablis). Some oak barrel effect, but a mid-palate weight from four months on its lees. Stone fruit to citrus. This wine could easily hold its own as a party wine with hors d’oeuvres, or accompany a weekend lunch of roast chicken or salmon. Exceptional quality-to-price ratio.

Wakefield Estate Shiraz 2019 ($19.95)

Fruit from the Limestone Coast and Clare Valley. Inky, blue, and purple (plums) fruited and iodine on the finish. Resonate fruit, seasoned with a light hand of American oak and some herbal notes. Punches up on the quality to price ratio. Wants a grilled steak (or mushroom dish).

Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($24.95)

Fruit from the Clare Valley and Coonawarra. Jaraman means seahorse in Aboriginal and alludes to fossil formations found on the Clare Valley vineyard when it was planted. This is a kind of Platonic ideal of an Aussie Cabernet Sauvignon: intensely pure black cassis fruit held up in a gum tree veil of minty eucalyptus notes. Good acid and tannic structure. Demands a leg or rack of lamb.