Did Trudeau just ‘walk back’ legalization?

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Courtesy of Lift Magazine

A recent article in the Quebec publication TVA Nouvelles has started a wave of speculation that Trudeau and the Liberals will be delaying legalization.

In response to a question about legalization on July 1, 2018, Trudeau responded that it will not be July 1, but ‘next summer’. This has spawned numerous follow up articles and speculation that the Liberals are ‘walking back’ their July 1 date. But the problem is, the July 1 date has been disputed for months now, if not from the very beginning.

Although it could change, June 29, 2018 is currently the last projected sitting day for the Senate and June 22 the last scheduled sitting day for the House. So any legislation would have to be agreed upon by both chambers and receive royal assent by that date, barring any changes in schedule. That is, by July, 2018. Summer begins June 21.

The July 1 date emerged initially from a CBC article on March 27 which stated that the government would legalize by July 1, 2018. While it didn’t say on July 1, this spawned a slew of headlines declaring Canada Day, July 1, as the beginning of legalization in Canada. Previous to this the rumour was ‘April 20, 2018’.

By early April, the Liberals’ point man on legalization, Bill Blair, was already emphasizing that the goal was to have legislation passed and regulations in place by that date, but not necessarily on it.

“I believe that … a reasonable goal is to have all this work done by the beginning of July, but by that date and on that date are very different things,” Blair said in an interview. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate date. That’s my opinion.”

As Bill C-45 was debated in the House of Commons, the July 1 date continued to come up repeatedly in speeches from the opposition parties, usually as a criticism, while the Liberals’ messaging continued to focus on July 2018, not July 1. In November, in response to one of these concerns from a conservative MP, Blair again clarified that July 1 was not the date.

“First of all,” the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Health told conservative MP Gérard Deltell, “I assure the member opposite that the date of enactment will not be July 1, Canada Day, a day that is special to all Canadians. I can say with great assurance that it will not be that day. In my opinion, that day is a sacred day for the celebration of the birth of this country, and we will not be doing the enactment of this proposed legislation on that day. We will not be doing it on July 1.”

None of this is to say there might not be a ‘delay’ in legalization, even after July, 2018. There are still numerous and significant issues to be sorted out. For example, provinces and territories are rushing to set up infrastructure for distribution and retail in time for next summer, municipalities are concerned about how they will pay to manage many of the burdens of regulating and enforcing the new regime, and there is concern over if there will be enough product on the market in time.

Members of both the NDP and Conservatives have also said the Liberals are rushing the process of legalization, and a delay would be reasonable given the complexity of the issue.

In addition, the Senate, where the bill currently sits at second reading, has not been rapid in its attempts to debate the bill so far, and there is considerable speculation that the Senate has a desire to assert their new independence by not being seen as ‘rushing’ the bill through. While the bill entered the chamber of sober second thought in late November, they have only debated the bill at second reading for 1 hour before rising for a six week break on Dec 14. The Senate sits again on Jan 30.

Senate committee will be held on Feb 6 to help answer some senators questions as they continue to debate at second reading. After second reading it will still have to go through even more debate at committee and then pass third reading. And any amendments passed at committee need to be in agreement with the House of Commons, which could require more time for back-and-forth between the chambers.

Still, this gives the Senate about five months to debate the issue. Many bills, even controversial ones like last year’s Bill C-14, have been passed in a matter of days through a handful of 8+ hour debates. Even with the Senate asserting its independence, it seems unlikely they could stretch it that long, even accounting for conflict between the chambers on any amendments.

The Senate could reject the bill all together and send it back to the House, although this is arguably very unlikely given the slight advantage the Liberals have in the Senate accounting for many ‘independent’ Liberal senators. The 43-32 passage of Senator Harder’s motion to bring in the ministers on Feb 6 would seem to show overall support on the side of the government, but the opposition motion to extend those meetings by a few extra days only barely lost, 37-39 with two abstentions.

Recently, the Chair of the government’s Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation told iPolitics that while she doesn’t see delaying the legislation for political reasons to be responsible, and thinks it will be in place by July, she does note it’s entirely possible.

“I think the government is going to need every day they can find,” she said. “If the government needed a couple of months, but I wouldn’t give them more than that, let’s say September 1st, or maybe October 1st, to make sure that … there was supply, and that everybody had worked out the retail space in the provinces – If there were a couple of months of delay for clear and obvious reasons, I don’t think that’s the end of the world.”

So while a delay is possible, there is no real change in messaging here. The Liberals have been using ‘July 2018’ as a goal from the beginning of introducing legislation. While many stakeholders and politicians have called for more time, the government remains committed to having the legislation in place by July.

Featured image by Gary Knight.

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