Pubdate: Sat, 10 Feb 2018
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Toronto Star
Page: IN 10


The ongoing effort in the Senate to derail the passage of the Liberal
government's bill to legalize marijuana is not an exercise in sober
second thought, as its Conservative proponents claim, but an attempt
to obstruct democracy. The Trudeau government should use the tools at
its disposal to push this important legislation through the Upper House.

Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, and C-46, which would tighten rules on
impaired driving related to marijuana use, have been before the Senate
since the Commons passed them in late November. And they may languish
there forever if the government does not invoke so-called time
allocation, a tool for curtailing debate that the Liberals have
largely eschewed.

The delay has been caused by some 20 Conservative senators who have
signed up to speak on Bill C-45 before it is referred to committee for
review. But speaking seems less their purpose than stonewalling. In
the more than two months since the bill reached the Red Chamber, not
one of them has actually weighed in. Until they do so, the legislation
is stuck.

Anticipating just such obstructionist tactics, Independent Senator
Tony Dean, the bill's sponsor in the chamber, tried to organize a
"structured" debate that would have given senators a chance to examine
the new laws, but according to a timetable that would allow for a vote
before the government's summer deadline. Conservative senators
rejected this proposal, however, arguing that it would not allow for
the full airing of the opposition's many concerns.

Yet surely the silent obstructionism the Tories are now employing does
nothing to advance their concerns. The Senate can play a useful role
in studying, debating and improving legislation. But these delay
tactics, so counter to the spirit of sober second thought, serve only
to subvert the will of the people.

After all, the legalization of marijuana was not only a Liberal
campaign promise, but a wildly popular one. Some 65 per cent of
Canadians continue to support the policy - and for good reason.

The prohibition on pot has driven up the cost of policing, contributed
to a national crisis of court delays, supported gang-run black
markets, compounded racial and class inequities and unnecessarily
criminalized people for doing something that by and large poses little
threat to them or others - all without delivering the promised
benefits for public health or public safety.

The bill the Conservative senators are now working so hard to delay
seeks to regulate the drug and ensure that it's safe, to tax it and
put proceeds into public education about the risks, and to strike a
serious, if not fatal, blow to the black market in the process. It is
among the best and certainly the boldest pieces of legislation this
government has yet pursued.

The Trudeau government, unlike its predecessor, has been admirably
reluctant to use procedural tricks to subvert democratic due process.
During the Harper years, behemoth omnibus bills and time allocation
were used freely to speed the passage of controversial legislation and
to evade public and parliamentary scrutiny. In opposition and on the
campaign trail, Justin Trudeau promised a more democratic approach and
he has largely been true to his word.

But just because Harper used these tools too much does not mean that
Trudeau must never use them at all.

Every government must manage the tension between efficiency and
democracy. But in the case of the popular pot bill and the unelected
senators trying to block it, these values are not at odds. Both would
be well served by a heavier government hand in the Upper House. Feb
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