A group of senators who were mostly named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting ready to defend the Liberal government’s cannabis bill from major amendments proposed by the Conservative Party in the Senate.
The final vote on Bill C-45, which will legalize recreational cannabis use for adults across the country, is already scheduled to occur on June 7 in the Senate.
However, there are continuing discussions between the Independent Senate Group (ISG), the Conservative Party and the independent Liberals in the Senate over the format of the debates and votes in the coming week. All sides have agreed to extend the Senate sitting hour, but there are still discussions over the number of amendments that senators will be able to propose in the lead-up to the final vote.
Three representatives from the ISG told a news conference on Tuesday that they do not see a need for major amendments following the work of five Senate committees that heard from 215 witnesses. A majority of the 43 ISG members were appointed by Mr. Trudeau, but they are officially independent from government.
“We remain open to other amendments that would truly provide added value to the legislation, but not amendments that are superficial, tactical, unenforceable, or which would only serve to delay the adoption of this bill,” ISG senator Raymonde Saint-Germain told reporters.
She said any amendment that “goes against the fundamental objectives of the legislation” would be opposed by the ISG.
The ISG is the biggest caucus in the Senate with 43 members, but it does not have an outright majority over the Conservatives (32 senators), the independent Liberals (11) and the six unaffiliated senators.
The Senate committee on social affairs adopted 40 amendments to Bill C-45 on Monday, but most of them were technical in nature.
Ms. Saint-Germain said there is no need to delay the implementation of the legislation, which is currently expected to come into full effect in late August or September. The Aboriginal Peoples committee of the Senate has called for a delay of up to a year before the legal market opens up to allow further consultations with First Nations.
“We will not agree to a delay that is significant because there is no reason to do this,” Ms. Saint-Germain said.
The Conservative leader in the Senate, Larry Smith, said in an interview that he wants all of his colleagues to have the right to propose amendments to Bill C-45, rejecting any procedural attempt to curtail their right to try to change the legislation.
“What we want to make sure is that at third reading, every senator who wants to make an amendment can make an amendment. That is the right of senators, that is a privilege,” he said. “We want to make sure there is not an argument that once the committee has made its decision, we don’t need any more amendments.”
In a letter to Mr. Smith on Monday, the government representative in the Senate, Peter Harder, called on the Conservatives to quickly publish all of the amendments they want to propose.
“Should Conservative senators wish to propose amendments at third reading, I would encourage them to share their content with Senate colleagues as soon as possible, for sober review and consideration, as well as to afford all senators the possibility to prepare for debate,” Mr. Harder said in his letter.
In a statement, the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador said the Senate offers the last best hope to delay the implementation of legal cannabis.
“Despite the Trudeau government’s multiple commitments to First Nations, Métis and Inuit, it is clearly indifferent to its obligations, particularly in the area of consultation,” AFNQL chief Ghislain Picard said.