Senators consider a homegrown showdown
OTTAWA • Senators are weighing the pros and cons of a showdown with the House of Commons over the government’s rejection of a number of Senate amendments to the cannabis legalization bill, including one that would have allowed provinces to ban homegrown marijuana.
While some senators argue the government’s insistence on legalizing home cultivation paves the way for a constitutional fight with the provinces, others say they must consider whether the issue is worth a possible impasse between the Senate and the Commons.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government’s decision to allow a limited number of homegrown plants was based on expert recommendations, and accused the Conservatives of trying to delay the bill.
“It’s been months that Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader, has been telling his Senate caucus … to play games to slow this down, to interfere with the will of the House … and it’s time that he stopped using his senators this way,” he said.
Scheer was quick to reject the accusation, pointing out that the Conservatives don’t control the Commons or the Senate. “If the prime minister is upset about the pace of legislation, he needs to talk to his own House leadership team and his Senate leadership team,” Scheer told reporters.
Last month, a Senate committee made a unanimous recommendation that the cannabis legalization bill, C-45, should be amended to affirm provinces’ right to ban home cultivation of marijuana. Quebec, Manitoba and Nunavut all plan to prohibit homegrown cannabis, though the federal law allows home cultivation of up to four plants.
The amendment was one of nearly four dozen changes the Senate made to the bill, which was sent back to the Commons last week.
On Wednesday, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said the government would not accept the change. “Canadians are allowed to make beer at home, or wine, and some Canadians grow tobacco,” she said. “It’s already possible for Canadians to grow cannabis for medical purposes, and we absolutely believe that the legislation should be consistent when it comes to recreational cannabis.” She said provinces have the right to restrict the number of homegrown cannabis plants to fewer than four.
Senators were quick to register their disappointment, with Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan accusing the government of “using the cannabis file to open a big legal fight and constitutional fight with the provinces.”
“If (the provinces) conclude that is it better, more easy to enforce prohibition on home cultivation, I think you should respect that choice,” said independent Sen. André Pratte.
But it’s unclear how hard the Senate is willing to push back. Once the House of Commons votes on the plan, senators could vote to accept the government’s decision, or could insist on their amendments and send the bill back to the House once more.
Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the independent senators’ group, said he wants to hear a more detailed explanation for why the amendments were rejected.
“It’s too early to talk about political showdowns and we’re not in the business of political showdowns,” he told reporters. “We are disappointed, but this is not a personal disappointment.”
He said those senators who support Bill C-45 will have to weigh the benefits of legalization against the importance of the amendments.
CANADIANS ARE ALLOWED TO MAKE BEER AT HOME, OR WINE, AND SOME GROW TOBACCO.
Ginette Petitpas Taylor