Pubdate: Fri, 16 Feb 2018
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Toronto Star
Author: Tim Harper
Page: A1


Political manoeuvres in upper house likely to push legalization date
into September - well past the Liberals' original July 1 target

If you were hankering for a summer of legalized marijuana in Canada,
you can forget it.

And you can thank Canada's newly independent - but unelected - Senate
for delays.

There is now a firm deadline for passage, but it wasn't the deadline
the Trudeau government, and some provinces, wanted.

If this was a strictly political gambit, there are those who would
finger the culprit, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, as the man who
directed his Senate caucus to put the brakes on government
legislation, choosing partisan battles over sober second thought.

Under a deal brokered in the Senate on Thursday, government Leader
Peter Harder dropped a threat to choke off debate in return for a
promise that the Senate would vote on final passage of marijuana
legislation June 7, the same day Ontarians go to the polls.

The bill has been sitting in the Senate awaiting approval since Nov.

Ontario was one province that had actually appeared ready to implement
the new legislation by its original target, July 1, a target federal
Liberals had been inching away from even before the Senate deal was
struck. The government has already signalled it would need up to three
months to get regulations in place to actually open pot outlets,
likely pushing implementation past Labour Day.

But the Senate is expected to pass the legislation with amendments,
meaning they would have to go backs to the Commons, further confusing
the timeline.

Conservatives were not alone in slowing the bill. Independent senators
also raised questions.

It is not a question of recreational marijuana becoming law. For
Conservatives, the question is "when."

The further down the road the Conservatives can push legalized pot,
the more they could take advantage of the inevitable problems that
will accompany rollout, pushing some of the hiccups into a federal
election year when Scheer can highlight problems with the program.

There will be outlets that are not ready. There will be policing
concerns. Inevitably, there will be an impaired driving incidents
involving pot, sparking controversy.

However, the Conservative strategy is not without risks.

They are taking on a popular government policy, a 2015 campaign pledge
and one that would likely find favour with the younger voters the
party needs.

Their vow to protect our families and children will play to voters who
would back them anyway. It would not grow any base.

And using the unelected Senate as the black hat gang to play Reefer
Madness and slow legislation passed by elected MPs is also unlikely to
be popular.

But in recent days, in both chambers, Conservatives had no end of
concerns over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "rushing" the legislation
- - announced 28 months ago and introduced into Parliament in April 2017
- - into practice.

There were questions over shady cannabis investments in Quebec from
offshore tax havens that might have, could have, included Liberal officials.

There were concerns over the legal age, lack of addiction facilities
in the North, Indigenous engagement, education surrounding toking and
driving, increased consumption, even marijuana as a "gateway" drug.

Harder, the government leader, had served notice that he would use
time allocation to force a vote and get past Conservative

The Conservative leader in the Senate, Larry Smith, indicated he would
take his own sweet time because of the intricacy of the

He had his own laundry list of concerns - health issues, the legal
age, impaired driving and people operating heavy machinery after
smoking a joint.

Dennis Patterson, a Conservative from Nunavut, told constituents in
Iqaluit that the Senate was not bound by any timeline, which is
technically correct, if not politically risky.

Patterson blamed the government for rolling out a bill while not
addressing the lack of an addictions treatment centre in Nunavut.

Tony Dean, the Independent senator who sponsored the marijuana bill in
the Senate, accused Conservatives of taking marching orders from
Scheer to delay the bill.

"Mr. Scheer's senators appear to have snapped to it, and a very
serious public health issue is becoming a political football," Dean
wrote in iPolitics.

Harder told his Senate colleagues "any potential delay for the sake of
delay would do a disservice to Canadians and to the culture here in
this chamber."

Conservatives countered that political promises were taking precedence
over health concerns of youth, likely the first time an opposition had
blamed a government for keeping a promise.

Canadians may be ready, but opposition senators have clouded
independence with politics, and we'll just have to wait a bit longer.
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MAP posted-by: Matt