Spotlight on the Senate
Patience is wearing thin and the clock is winding down, as Canada’s Cannabis legislation is stuck at second reading in the Senate, with no end in sight.
Bill C-45 is the hot topic in the Red Chamber right now. Even cameras were allowed inside the Senate last week for a special committee meeting that saw members of Trudeau’s Cabinet defend their cannabis legislation.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and parliamentary secretary Bill Blair were on the hot seat, answering questions from Senators and explaining why the legislation is in the best interest of Canadians.
This week, the federal government took steps to ensure the Senate doesn’t hold up legalization plans. Senator Harder served notice that he wants second reading debate on the Bill wrapped up by March 1.
To recap, Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act was passed in the House of Commons on November 27, 2017. It was introduced in the Senate and given first reading on November 28, 2017. Senators are currently debating the legislation, but many are saying opposition Senators are playing politics and purposely delaying the Bill.
In order for the government to meet its July timeline for legalization, the Senate would have to pass the bill by end of May. Sounds doable, right? Not necessarily, if Conservative Senators continue to drag the process out.
About 20 Conservative Senators have signed up to speak to the Bill, but so far, not one of them have actually done so. And, there is no way to force them to speak within a timeframe, unless the government invokes what is known as ‘time allocation’, a procedural tool used to shut down debate and move to a vote. However, our Prime Minister has yet to use this tool in his toolbox since taking office.
Senators have a constitutional responsibility to provide a comprehensive review and debate the merits of the legislation. It is very important to get it right. But, it’s also important that this work takes place in a timely fashion, without unnecessary delay.
Delaying legalization will postpone important health and safety enhancements and ensure the black market continues to thrive. Our country needs a safe, legal and tightly regulated supply chain to remove the billions of dollars of profits from the hands of criminal organizations.
Governments, businesses and organizations have already invested significant time and resources preparing for the safe transition to legal cannabis. To delay the Bill would be costly and put all this planning and financial investment in jeopardy.
So, what does the future hold for this historic piece of legislation?
Once Bill C-45 receives second reading, it is referred to committee for an in-depth review, including witness testimony, before it gets sent back to the chamber for further debate at third reading. If the Senate passes any amendments to the bill, it gets sent back to the House of Commons to be approved by MPs.
So, as the wheels of the legislature grind to a halt, timelines are being questioned. Once the Prime Minister’s Cabinet gives the Bill its official seal of approval, all the other pieces of the puzzle need to be fit into place. Product distribution, workforce hiring, retail networks all have to be in place for the system to function properly, or at all.
The government remains confident they will be able to meet their July timeframe. Until then, all eyes are on the Senate as they give their sober second thought to a piece of legislation that Canada has been waiting for for decades.