The Government Representative in the Senate is calling on Senators to dedicate the rest of February to debate a bill that would regulate and legalize cannabis in Canada in order to allow it to progress to the next legislative phase.
Sen. Peter Harder proposed a timetable to Senate leadership on Tuesday that would allow for as much debate time as possible before voting on second reading of Bill C-45 by March 1. Should leadership not agree to the timetable, he said he would move a motion for time allocation to vote on referring the bill to committee for further study.
He said that governments, law enforcement, businesses, investors and all Canadians who are preparing for implementation need to know about the Senate’s timeframe so they can ensure an orderly transition to the new regime. The bill has been at second reading since Nov. 30 of last year.
“Put simply: a period of transition is necessary to allow for the publication of regulations and the shipment of cannabis products from federally-licensed producers to provincially or territorially authorized distributors and retailers,” Sen. Harder said in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday.
Sen. Harder said he is also concerned that opponents may behave in a partisan fashion to delay review of the bill.
“My fear, quite frankly, is that March 1 would come, and we may see the sort of procedural obstruction we have seen from senators in this Parliament on multiple items of business,” he said.
Sen. Harder suggested the Senate could sit Friday of this week and on Monday, Feb. 26 to provide as much time as needed to accommodate all Senators wishing to speak. The Senate is not scheduled to sit the week of Feb. 19, and is set for a two-week-break starting March 5.
Sen. Harder also detailed during his speech a proposed structure for a collaborative study of the legislation that would leverage the expertise of three Senate committees: the Aboriginal Peoples Committee on Indigenous issues; the Legal and Constitutional Affairs on the criminal measures; and the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee on the legalization framework in its entirety, with particular attention paid to the bill’s focus on public health and harm reduction.
Debate so far
Sen. Tony Dean, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, led off second reading debate on Nov. 30, but Conservative Senators shut down opportunity for Senators to question him at that time. So far, five other Independent Senators have spoken to the bill, as well as one Conservative Senator.
Read the speeches so far:
- Nov. 30, 2017: Sen. Dean
- Jan. 30, 2018: Sen. Pratte
- Jan. 1, 2018: Sen. Gold and Sen. Gagné
- Jan. 7, 2018: Sen. Galvez
- Jan. 8, 2018: Sen. Patterson
The Conservative critic for the bill, Sen. Claude Carignan, has yet to speak. The leader of the national Conservative caucus, Andrew Scheer, recently said that he would direct Conservative Senators to use “all the democratic tools” available to try to “block” the bill.
Noting that the Government Representative Office in the Senate has not used time allocation so far, Sen. Harder said he would vastly prefer to move forward by agreement.
Other opportunities have also been provided for review in the Senate, including a televised Committee of the Whole meeting, where Senators questioned three ministers responsible for the bill, as well as a parliamentary secretary. Senators have also visited a licensed cannabis production facility to view how the product is grown in commercial quantities and ask detailed questions to company representatives.
Senator Dean has also organized several information sessions for Senators, including presentations from senior officials from Health Canada and researchers from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.