If I and others had any illusions about Canadian senators having sage-like qualities, they were probably shattered last week when the Senate televised/streamed a session for all to see.
Three elected Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs) were grilled for two hours by senators on cannabis legislation that was passed in the House of Commons and now sits in the Senate waiting to be approved.
For those not familiar wth Canadian politics, the Senate is composed of unelected individuals handpicked by various prime ministers to do their bidding, all in the guise of providing “sober second thought” to government bills. In the past, the Senate was composed of Conservative and Liberal senators. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to make his Liberal senators independent, meaning in theory they don’t have to toe party lines. But the Conservative senators still adhere to the old system — they are loyal to the Conservative leader in the House, who is opposed to the legalization of cannabis. So, the bill has been languishing in the House because Conservative senators have been stalling it by not participating in the bill’s second reading. They claim it’s not about partisan politics, but few believe them.
The televised debate last week started with Conservative Senate leader Larry Smith asking the three Liberal MPs a series of general questions, all the while referring to cannabis as “marijuana” even though the word is now considered to be derogatory. He was the only person in the room to use the term, and it undermined his credibility from the start.
In my opinion, the three Liberal MPs came across as eloquent, well-prepared politicians, while the senators came across mostly as rank amateurs, some of whom seemed to have trouble expressing themselves. At least one Conservative senator interupted MPs’ answers. Not one of the senators asked questions that weren’t addressed in the government’s legislation, and some of their questions were posed with ridiculously long and irrelevant preambles.
It was clear to me afterward that we need a better system to choose senators, i.e. that they must have previous political experience and a proven track record, at the very least.
So, the initial government plan was to have recreational cannabis for sale by July 1. But the government is already acknowledging that it will happen later than that, thanks to those Conservative senators. Once the bill does get through the Senate, it will take at least eight to 12 weeks before recreational cannabis will be sold. It is possible that the bill will not pass until the fall or even next winter.
Meanwhile, politicians in Canadian provinces have been rushing to put the framework in place for recreational cannabis, with some opting to sell through government-run outlets and others allowing it to be sold by independent retailers. Billions of dollars is being invested in medical cannabis companies to expand their operations so that they can supply the recreational market. Cannabis stocks are consistently the trending ones on the TSX. And big financial institutions are getting into the game, making huge investment bets on companies like Canopy Growth.
Apparently, there is a system of closure to shut down debate on bills in the Senate, though I am unclear on how it works. But I have little doubt it will be used in this case eventually.
Still, I have to wonder about the Conservative senators who are delaying the bill with so much attention on them. The legalization of cannabis is one of the top news stories in Canada these days, and a lot of Canadians who never gave the Senate much thought are now taking a good look at it. So, the more the Conservative senators, acting on behalf of the Conservative leader in the House, no doubt, keep stalling the bill, the angrier many Canadians are going to get, especially when they see just how unqualified some of these senators are for such a lofty position.
I don’t for a minute think any of those Conservative senators are working on behalf of organized crime. I think they truly have reservations about cannabis. But they are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The longer they stall, the more money flows into the coffers of the black market. One of the reasons the Trudeau government legalized cannabis was to shut down the illegal production of cannabis, and make sure Canadians are getting clean pot. Yet Conservative senators, who claim to worry about their kids and grandchildren using cannabis, gamble that people who do consume it illegally — perhaps some of their kids — won’t end up ingesting something that has been tainted by mold or some other harmful substance. They seem to hold on to some dream that by not legalizing it, people will stop using it and it will just go away.
Which, of course, is sheer nonsense, and has been for decades.
A majority in the House of Commons voted to legalize recreational cannabis. A majority of Canadians want to see it legalized. But a handful of unelected senators are holding up the will of the people, and the people are taking note.