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Malcolm Jolley: A wino’s guide to gifting wine

Commentary

I’m a dedicated wino, so there are few things I like more than to be given a bottle of wine. I also like giving wine, since it requires more shopping for wine, which I also really like. As it is my job to go around collecting stories about wine, I almost always have one about whatever bottle I am giving, and more often than not about what I receive. Also, I am lucky to run in a circle of friends who like to entertain so, having sat at their tables many times, I have a pretty good idea of what they like to drink. I tend to do well in the exchange of wine gifts.

Still, there are times, when a bottle of wine seems like the best gift to give, but information on the people who will receive it, or on the selection of possible gifts at a given moment is scarce. Or, I am sometimes asked to recommend a gift of wine to a friend. In these cases, I rely on the admittedly vague schematics outlined below when considering a gift of wine beyond the courtesy of a hostess gift for an invitation to a casual dinner.

As a general rule, a wine gift ought to be worth at least a bit more than what its recipient usually pays for everyday wine. Or, in the absence of that knowledge, at least a bit more than what I would pay for everyday wine. But, unless the recipient is some kind of specialized collector, there is a ceiling on this too. A wine that is for sale today from a relatively recent vintage probably needs to be aged for some time. It could be a little bit more, or a little bit less, but the sweet spot for a substantive gift of wine ready to drink in these inflationary times is about $50.

After determining price, wine gifts could be divided into two broad categories, or said to rest somewhere on a spectrum of two poles: boring or weird. These terms are meant affectionately and might be more euphemistically called dependable or novel. Boring wine gifts are invariably variations on the concept of a luxury brand, which promises a minimum standard of quality for which it charges a premium. A weird wine gift makes no such promise but instead holds out the hope of discovery and access to pleasure.

There’s nothing wrong with a boring wine gift. Most regular drinkers of wine stick to the same small number of big-producing brands. You will know these brands by their prominence at the front of the store you buy wine in, or their presence on the shelves of Duty-Free stores and other high-volume retail outlets. Nearly every producer of wine in the world, no matter how prolific, has at least one flagship label, if not a line or lines of them. They will be good wines that offer pleasure in comforting ways that align with popular tastes.

Sparkling wine is always a good wine gift since most people enjoy a glass of it, however else their taste in wine goes. It’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed to receive a bottle of Champagne (the real Champagne, which is from Champagne). In this way, Champagne is a classically boring wine gift because there is very little risk in handing over a bottle, and one pays a premium for that luxury. The thing about Champagne, though, is that they make somewhere around 300,000,000 bottles of the stuff a year. The widow and the monk get around enough that they may not make much of an impression.

One way to make Champagne a little weird is to gift a bottle of what has become known as grower Champagne. The big Champagne houses don’t grow all the grapes they use to make all of those millions of bottles. They rely mostly on contracted farmers, or growers.

In the last quarter century, an increasing number of the growers have started setting some grapes aside to make their own Champagne labels. The quality is as high as the big houses and often more interesting. Look for unfamiliar names on the bottles on the shelves of the Champagne section.

A sparkling wine gift that ought to be boring but is still weird is a bottle made in Canada. Our cool climate supplies all the acidity needed to make great sparkling wine in all of our wine regions. Established producers like Benjamin Bridge in the Gaspereau Valley of Nova Scotia, Henry of Pelham in the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, and Blue Mountain in B.C.’s Okanagan, make flawless and delicious bubbles that easily compete with anything from France or anywhere else, and often for significantly less.

Sparkling or not, buying a wine gift from a domestic producer has benefits beyond economic nationalism. Unlike importers (in most cases, in most provinces), wines can be ordered directly from Canadian wineries in quantities other than a case of 12 or 6. This means the possibility of ordering one or two bottles of fancy local wine that can’t be easily picked up on the way home from work.

One exception to the case rule, when ordering wines from importers, as well as domestic producers, are large format bottles. 1.5 litre magnums of wine, holding twice as much as a regular bottle, or 3 litre double magnums of wine, are never a boring wine gift. Even if the wine itself is not particularly special, the container makes it so. And if you are lucky enough to be around when your recipient opens it up, then they are a great excuse to linger a little longer around the table.

Opinion: The Alberta Sovereignty Act appears to be constitutional

Commentary

Premier Danielle Smith has officially unveiled the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, one of her most widely discussed policies. While the debate surrounding the merits of the policy will now begin in earnest, it appears to be constitutionally compliant based on existing law.

It was not always clear what shape this bill would take, and much remains open to debate. The idea of a law protecting Alberta’s sovereignty was thrust into political discussions by a report called the Free Alberta Strategy. The authors of the report, Rob Anderson, Barry Cooper, and Derek From, advocated, among other things, a law that would authorize Alberta’s legislative assembly to:

refuse enforcement of any specific Act of Parliament or federal court ruling that Alberta’s elected body deemed to be a federal intrusion into an area of provincial jurisdiction, or unfairly prejudicial to the interests of Albertans.

This would unconstitutionally oust the jurisdiction of courts in defiance of the rule of law. The idea was reminiscent of South Carolina’s attempt to “nullify” federal laws during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, a dark chapter in the states’ rights controversies that would eventually lead to the Civil War. But Smith’s official description of her plan on her campaign website and the comments following her election as leader of her party did not seem to embrace the idea of nullification. Instead, they focused on provincial non-enforcement of federal laws or programs. And with good reason. As one of us noted elsewhere, a province cannot relieve someone of an obligation to comply with federal laws or ignore court rulings declaring provincial action unconstitutional. However, a province can decline to implement and enforce federal laws or programs.

A province’s ability to do so stems from the division of executive authority outlined in the Constitution, which is a fundamental aspect of Canada’s federal structure. Each order of government has its own executive branch, which is accountable to its legislature and can be tasked with executing its laws. It is not required to implement and enforce the laws or programs of another order of government.

While the Supreme Court of Canada has permitted administrative inter-delegation between the orders of government, it has held that the provinces and the federal government have no “positive obligation” to cooperate with each other. The Court permits and encourages cooperation, but it has never mandated it. Indeed, the Court has held that provinces and the federal government “are coordinate and not subordinate one to the other.” And history shows that the provinces have availed themselves of the ability to decline enforcement of federal laws.

This brings us to the bill released on Tuesday.

The proposed law begins by making clear that it should not be “construed” as “authorizing any order that would be contrary to the Constitution of Canada”. It then operationalizes the distinction mentioned above and notes that it does not authorize a directive to “a person, other than a provincial entity, that compel the person to act contrary to or otherwise in violation of any federal law”. In other words, the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act and the orders made under it do not and cannot relieve individuals from their obligation to comply with federal laws.

That being said, one point merits clarification because the latter clause exempts a “provincial entity” from its scope. On the one hand, this could be read as permitting provincial officials from refusing to comply with federal laws of general application, which cannot be done. On the other hand, in our view, when read in conjunction with the indication to avoid construing the law in a manner “that would be contrary to the Constitution of Canada”, the proposed law exempts provincial entities because it is directing them, in their executive capacity, to contest the reach of federal laws should that be necessary. For instance, if a federal law or program mandated provincial implementation or enforcement of federal laws, which is unconstitutional, the provincial executive could decline to obey that aspect of the law.

To use an example: provincial officials can be required to comply with laws of general application in the Criminal Code if they choose to engage in such activity, but the provincial executive branch is not required to investigate and prosecute the offences carried out by their own provincial officials. Therefore, the bill does not and cannot authorize provincial nullification of federal laws.

Instead, the proposed legislation appears to be focused on the issue of provincial non-enforcement, which is wholly constitutional. It bears noting that, when the provinces do decline to enforce federal laws, they usually do so through executive action. In addition, the provinces need not justify their decisions to decline enforcement of federal laws. These decisions are usually announced through a press release or ordinary legislative action without much fanfare.

In this case, section 3 of the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act goes beyond that requirement by providing the grounds on which the legislature may approve a resolution—that is, if, “in the opinion of the Legislative Assembly”, a federal initiative: (i) intrudes into provincial legislation jurisdiction; (ii) violates the rights and freedoms of Albertans under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; or (iii) causes or is anticipated to cause harm to Albertans. In other words, the law requires the legislature to provide reasons for declining enforcement of federal laws or programs.

The province can even decline to enforce federal laws if the courts rule that those laws are constitutionally compliant. For example, if the Supreme Court had held that Canada’s abortion laws were constitutionally compliant in 1988 instead of striking them down, Quebec would still have been under no obligation to enforce them itself. It could express its disagreement with the courts and require the federal executive to enforce the laws itself, with its own funds.

While this does not prevent the federal executive from enforcing its own laws, declining provincial enforcement can sometimes be effective in practice because the federal government often relies on provincial cooperation. Accordingly, there is no doubt that this legislation will have teeth. And indeed, historically, the Canadian provinces and sub-national entities in other federal systems have used non-enforcement as a structural protection of liberty and a check on government power. The actions taken by some American states and cities in response to some of former President Donald Trump’s policy decisions are perhaps the most prominent recent example. But as long as Alberta limits itself to provincial non-enforcement, its actions are constitutionally compliant based on existing law.

More controversially, the bill includes so-called “Henry VIII clauses”, which allow the executive to amend laws passed by the legislature. Some have argued that these clauses are fundamentally undemocratic because they circumvent the legislative process. And indeed there is a proper concern in Canadian democracy about the expansion of executive power, particularly the power of the prime minister or premiers, at the cost of cabinet and the legislature. Henry VIII clauses may contribute to this problem. While we believe those advancing this position raise important points, we note that these clauses have not been held to be unconstitutional. Indeed, the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed their constitutionality in the References re Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, over the objection of Justice Côté’s dissent on this point.

We would add that the Henry VIII clauses deployed in this bill appear to be less democratically objectionable than those previously endorsed by the Supreme Court. The purpose of the clauses at issue here, as we understand them, is to give effect to a resolution of the legislature. Put differently, rather than have every relevant provincial law amended through the legislative process, the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act provides that, once the legislature has made its policy choice known through a resolution, the executive has the tools to operationalize that democratic decision.

That is, the bill does not provide the executive with the discretion to amend any provincial law at will. It can only do so in an effort to give effect to a resolution approved by the legislature. Crucially, any such amendments must comply with the Constitution. In some cases, no change will be needed because provincial non-enforcement can be done through ordinary executive decision-making. However, in cases where provincial legislation speaks to the method of enforcing federal laws or cooperating with the federal government, the legislation at issue will need to be modified to reflect the legislature’s policy decision.

In sum, the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act as written appears to be constitutional and consistent with our constitutional tradition, in which federalism is a foundational principle that does not entail central domination. This does not mean the provinces should decline to enforce federal laws, but simply that the Constitution does not prevent them from doing so.