Thursday, October 01, 2009

What's your MP's wine preference?

Good Day Readers:

Several years ago while working in Ottawa was invited to the Parliamentary "cafeteria" by a friend who worked in the Privy Council. The fresh British Columbia salmon sure was nice and the prices cheap like borscht too!

Clare L. Pieuk

Don Martin: MPs sip Canadian wine unavailable to mere voters
September 29, 2009
A quick glance around the parliamentary dining room suggests a lunch-hour crowd of enthusiastic wine lovers fortifying themselves for the intoxicating experience of a Question Period set to erupt in the House of Commons five floors below.

The red is more popular, a Pelee Island Cabernet Franc of modest flavour and medium body. But they're also guzzling a fair volume of the Angel's Gate Vidal Blanc, a Niagara effort which boasts of "ripe notes of pineapple and banana on the nose . . . a hint of melon . . . with ripe grapefruit and orange blossom following through to the finish." In other words, a fruit cocktail.
MPs and senators will gather in this restaurant next month to taste-test dozens of new wines imported from across Canada to vote for the vintage they'll serve themselves in 2010.
Trouble is, if any other Canadian tried it, they'd be breaking the law.
Not just any law. A federal law. And not just any federal law, but one with no discernible purpose other than to boost the price of domestic labels for every other Canadian.
The sobering truth is that Canada, a country of alleged free-traders, still prohibits the sale of booze across provincial boundaries courtesy of an archaic post-Prohibition law originally aimed at blocking alcohol from flowing between dry and wet provinces.
There are two exemptions:
1. Provincial liquor boards can buy directly from wineries in other provinces, the better to add a hefty markup to the sticker before products hit the shelves.
2. Her Majesty and associated representatives can order directly from the producer, which means MPs and senators can drink wine that would have to be transported illegally by mere Canadian mortals.
Parliamentary officials have contracted to order 450 cases of the 2010 vote-winning wine to cover the 170 days the dining room is scheduled to open, a consumption rate which suggests the senatorial chamber might not always live up to its sober-second-thought mandate. If there's an election, it notes, that order might shrink by a case or two.
The federal law is, of course, asinine and it should have Canadians seeing red that's darker than an Osoyoos merlot, but it lives on despite repeated promises by various federal governments to kill it, the latest delivered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his 2007 Throne Speech.
The loudest advocates for the status quo are, obviously, provincial liquor boards which flaunt monopoly rule on orders from outside their province for the sole purpose of raising revenue and limiting access.
In a country where internationally acclaimed wines are emerging from fast-growing B.C. and Ontario operations, with improving wines from Quebec and Nova Scotia and fledgling competition in New Brunswick and P.E.I., all artificial barriers are bad for business.
After the U.S. Supreme Court declared similar restrictions on interstate wine deliveries unconstitutional in 2005, the open border boosted domestic wine sales by more 30 per cent.
Mark Hicken, whose business card boasts the dream practice of ‘wine lawyer', says even the open access agreements signed by the three westernmost provinces are trumped by the 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act.
"The original purpose was control. Now it being used as a revenue guarantee," he says, noting its often easier to ship B.C. wines to the United States than Alberta and many vintners face onerous paperwork and regular rejections in securing listings for the lucrative Ontario market.
There's clearly no place for a law drafted 80 years ago to govern a product sold in the age of Internet ordering and same-day jet delivery, particularly one that's so ludicrous it technically outlaws someone from taking even one bottle across a provincial boundary.
There's only one retail force strong enough to prevent the good times flowing across the nation despite 15 years of promised change by prime ministers and premiers.
Drunk with their protected purchasing power, the all-mighty provincial liquor control boards have the lingering clout to tell the buying public to stop whining over sour grapes.
And the only ones who can legally raise an out-of-province drink to their continued success are the elected and appointed powers of Parliament Hill.
National Post


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