Tory staffer lob­bied sen­a­tors to de­lay pot bill

Ottawa Citizen - - CLASSIFIEDS - JOAN BRYDEN

OT­TAWA • An em­ployee of the Con­ser­va­tives’ lead Se­nate critic on mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion had been lob­by­ing in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors for sev­eral weeks be­fore he was fired last week for urg­ing them to post­pone a fi­nal vote on the mat­ter.

In­de­pen­dent Sen. Ratna Omid­var says Mal­colm Arm­strong ap­proached her three dif­fer­ent times after com­mit­tee meet­ings to dis­cuss his con­cerns about Bill C-45. And she wasn’t the only in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tor he spoke to.

“He’s been a con­stant (pres­ence), I think, at the so­cial af­fairs com­mit­tee,” Omid­var said in an in­ter­view. “It wasn’t just me. He made it a point to speak to as many sen­a­tors as he could.”

The first time Arm­strong ap­proached her was in mid-April fol­low­ing a meet­ing of the Se­nate’s so­cial af­fairs com­mit­tee, which is study­ing the cannabis le­gal­iza­tion bill. Omid­var said Arm­strong didn’t iden­tify him­self as a staffer of Con­ser­va­tive Sen. Claude Carig­nan, who is lead­ing the Tory charge against the bill in the up­per house, and she told him she didn’t have time that day to talk to him.

At the next com­mit­tee meet­ing, she said he handed her a doc­u­ment out­lin­ing his con­cerns about the bill, which again didn’t iden­tify him as a Tory sen­a­tor’s staffer. She no­ticed that he was wear­ing a Se­nate lan­yard with his ID badge, so she asked him who he worked for.

“He said, ‘Oh, I’m in a con­tract but I’m an in­de­pen­dent re­searcher.’ And I said, ‘So, who do you work for?”’ Omid­var said.

“And he hemmed and hawed and wasn’t quite forth­com­ing. And by this time, my par­lia­men­tary af­fairs ad­viser had al­ready sort of alerted me and so I in­sisted, ‘Who do you work for?’ and he then said to me he worked for Sen. Carig­nan.”

Omid­var said Arm­strong ap­proached her again after another com­mit­tee meet­ing to say “he was sorry if he had cre­ated an im­pres­sion in my mind that he was any­thing but a Se­nate staffer but he was work­ing as an in­de­pen­dent, that his point of view was his own.”

Carig­nan fired Arm­strong last week after learn­ing he’d cir­cu­lated a pa­per among in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors urg­ing them to post­pone a fi­nal vote on the cannabis bill un­til they hear back from a spe­cial com­mit­tee that he sug­gested should be set up to study as­pects of le­gal­iza­tion that have not yet been ad­e­quately con­sid­ered.

Con­ser­va­tive Se­nate leader Larry Smith’s of­fice dis­avowed the pa­per — which was de­signed to look like an of­fi­cial Se­nate doc­u­ment and which did not iden­tify Arm­strong as a Carig­nan staffer — and said Tory sen­a­tors con­tinue to abide by an agree­ment struck among all Se­nate fac­tions to hold a fi­nal vote on C-45 by June 7.

That timetable is in­tended to al­low the Trudeau govern­ment to de­liver on its com­mit­ment to have recre­ational cannabis avail­able for re­tail sales by late sum­mer — a dead­line that would have been im­pos­si­ble to meet had sen­a­tors adopted Arm­strong’s pro­posal.

The pa­per and the fact the au­thor did not iden­tify his con­nec­tion with Carig­nan sparked sus­pi­cion that the Tories were sur­rep­ti­tiously try­ing to per­suade in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors to de­lay pas­sage of the bill, with­out tak­ing the heat them­selves for reneg­ing on the June 7 agree­ment.

How­ever, Arm­strong, who has a doc­tor­ate in phi­los­o­phy from In­dia, in­sisted in an in­ter­view that he’s apo­lit­i­cal and was not act­ing at the be­hest of Carig­nan or the Con­ser­va­tive Se­nate lead­er­ship.

Omid­var called Arm­strong’s con­duct “a se­ri­ous breach of ac­count­abil­ity, su­per­vi­sion and over­sight.” She be­lieves the Se­nate’s in­ter­nal econ­omy com­mit­tee should in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter.

Ratna Omid­var

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