Tory se­na­tors balk at pot push

Edmonton Journal - - NEWS - JoAn Bry­den

Con­ser­va­tive se­na­tors are balk­ing at an at­tempt to speed up con­sid­er­a­tion of a bill to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana, which the Trudeau gov­ern­ment hopes to have in place this July.

Sen. Larry Smith, who leads the Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus in the Se­nate, in­di­cated Wed­nes­day that his se­na­tors need more time than the gov­ern­ment wants to al­low to do their duty as the of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion: to pro­vide thor­ough and “con­struc­tive eval­u­a­tion” of bills, par­tic­u­larly one as com­pli­cated and far-reach­ing as the cannabis leg­is­la­tion.

The gov­ern­ment’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the Se­nate, Sen. Peter Harder, served no­tice this week that he wants sec­ond read­ing de­bate on Bill C-45 wrapped up by March 1, after which it would go to com­mit­tee for de­tailed ex­am­i­na­tion be­fore re­turn­ing to the Se­nate for a fi­nal de­bate and vote.

If the var­i­ous Se­nate fac­tions don’t agree to that timetable, Harder warned he’ll move a mo­tion to im­pose time al­lo­ca­tion to cut off de­bate — a tac­tic he’s avoided using be­fore now.

Harder jus­ti­fied using it on C-45 be­cause, he said, Con­ser­va­tive se­na­tors have been in­structed by their party’s leader, An­drew Scheer, to use “all demo­cratic tools” avail­able to “block” the bill.

The bill has been be­fore the Se­nate since Novem­ber but only one Con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tor has spo­ken on it thus far.

Bar­ring time al­lo­ca­tion to cut de­bate short, Se­nate rules al­low de­bate to be de­layed in­def­i­nitely as long as a sin­gle sen­a­tor still wants to speak.

Smith said he has 17 se­na­tors who want to take part in sec­ond read­ing de­bate but they haven’t spo­ken as yet, since they were wait­ing to hear from the min­is­ters in charge of the cannabis file. Those min­is­ters — Health Min­is­ter Ginette Petit­pas Tay­lor, Jus­tice Min­is­ter Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould and Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale — tes­ti­fied on the bill be­fore the Se­nate last week.

Given the in­ter­est in the de­bate, Smith said he’ll be urg­ing Harder to show “some flex­i­bil­ity” on the March 1 dead­line.

“We’re look­ing to see whether there’s an op­por­tu­nity, a sched­ule that can be set up that serves all the needs of the four groups,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Con­ser­va­tives, the In­de­pen­dent Se­na­tors Group, for­mer Lib­eral se­na­tors and non-af­fil­i­ated in­de­pen­dent se­na­tors.

As for Harder’s claim that Scheer has in­structed Con­ser­va­tive se­na­tors to use all avail­able tools to block the bill, Smith said: “An­drew Scheer said ex­actly what any Op­po­si­tion leader would say, (which) is that, ‘We’re in Op­po­si­tion and do what you can do to be an ef­fec­tive Op­po­si­tion.’ ”

Petit­pas Tay­lor told se­na­tors last week that provin­cial gov­ern­ments will need two to three months after the bill re­ceives royal assent to pre­pare for re­tail sales of cannabis.

She in­sisted the gov­ern­ment is still on track to le­gal­ize weed this July but didn’t clar­ify whether she meant it would ac­tu­ally be avail­able for sale at that time or sim­ply that the bill would have re­ceived royal assent by then. Of­fi­cials later said that would de­pend on how quickly C-45 gets through the Se­nate.

The Se­nate would have to pass the bill by the end of May at the lat­est for mar­i­juana sales to start in July.

In the House of Com­mons, Con­ser­va­tive MPs al­leged that the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to rush the bill through the Se­nate to help Lib­eral friends who own mar­i­juana com­pa­nies fi­nanced by anony­mous in­di­vid­u­als via off­shore tax havens, which can be used by or­ga­nized crime to laun­der money.

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