The Western Canadian Wine War is over — at least for the time being.
“We’ll be buying wine again,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told reporters at a late afternoon news conference in Edmonton Thursday.
She announced the end of that province’s embargo on BC wines after BC Premier John Horgan earlier softened his government’s action on protecting BC’s coast from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
Premier Horgan announced his provincial government would be moving forward with consultation around four bitumen spill safeguards while referring only to the courts the outstanding issue around B.C.’s constitutional right to protect B.C.’s coast.
That gesture was sufficient for Alberta to stay its wine embargo.
“I think it is fair to say that in a small way today B.C. blinked,” Premier Notley said. “B.C. is stepping back from the brink and abiding by the law. That is a good thing.”
She expected the Courts would rule against BC on the constitutional question.
“I’m confident the courts will not give B.C. rights it does not possess under the constitution,” she said. “In other words, I’m confident the constitution will be upheld and we will see the last of these ridiculous threats.”
Premier Horgan said his government will be retaining expert legal counsel to ready a reference to the courts on four safeguards including spill response time, geographic response plans, compensation for loss of public and cultural use of land and application of regulations to marine spills.
The government expects that will take several weeks to complete. The reference will seek to reinforce B.C.’s constitutional rights to defend against the risks of a bitumen spill.
The embargo was announced in early February by as a response to BC talk of delaying movement of diluted bitumen to the Lower Mainland.
BC said then it wanted a further review of the risks associated with a pipeline expansion that would carry that diluted bitumen from the Alberta Tarsands to Burnaby and from there to tankers creeping down Burrard Inlet through Vancouver Harbour and along the southern tip of Vancouver Island to the Pacific.
The latest actions by both provinces comes on the heels of an announcement from the British Columbia Wine Institute that it would be taking the Province of Alberta to court to end the embargo.
Wednesday, BCWI notified the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) that it will challenge the constitutionality of the embargo, which it says is severely harming BC wineries and grape growers, many of which are small, family-owned operations.
It welcomed news of Alberta’s decision to end the embargo.
“However, uncertainty remains,” the Institute said in a statement. “We remain concerned that any provincial government believes it has the constitutional authority to impose trade bans on Canadian products based on their place of origin.”
With 276 wineries and 923 grape growers, the BC wine industry is an important contributor to the local economy, jobs and quality of life, the Wine Institute says. The industry employs more than 12,000 people.
Premier Horgan reiterated the value of the industry in his statement yesterday.
“The actions by the Alberta government threaten an entire industry and the livelihoods of people who depend on it,” said Premier Horgan. “We have taken steps to protect our wine industry from the unwarranted trade action by the Government of Alberta.
“It’s not about politics. It’s not about trade. It’s about British Columbians’ right to have their voices heard on this critical issue,” said Premier Horgan. “And it’s about B.C.’s right to defend itself against actions that may threaten our people, our province and our future.”