Speech – On the Message from the House concerning C-45
June 19, 2018
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise to today to speak to the message from the other place regarding Bill C-45.
As I thought about whether or not I would vote to accept the message or advocate this chamber holding our ground, I not only reflected on everything I’ve heard through Nunavut and throughout our fulsome study and debate of the bill, but I also reviewed Senator Harder’s paper from this past April entitled “Complementarity: the Senate’s Constitutional Role.”
The first point that struck me was Senator Harder’s belief that the Senate should:
. . . adopt a stance of democratic deference to the Government’s electoral platform when passed into law by the House of Commons, in accordance with the principles underlying the Salisbury Convention (which does not preclude amendments that would improve the legislation);
So I reviewed the Liberal platform, and I saw their promise that the Liberal government:
. . . with input from experts in public health, substance abuse, and law enforcement, will design a new system of strict marijuana sales and distribution, with appropriate federal and provincial excise taxes applied.
To my mind, this means that the Senate, through debate and proposed amendments, has been attempting to improve the legislation by ensuring that the government not break its campaign promises with this bill. Several amendments passed by this chamber and ultimately rejected by the other place were based exactly on the expert advice received during committee study.
The bill also contradicts, as Senator Christmas stated during debate, another campaign promise made by the Trudeau Liberals to “do more to make sure that the voices of Indigenous Peoples are heard in Ottawa,” by cutting them out of the excise tax regime and manifestly not properly consulting with them.
Senator Harder went on to say that we must:
. . . strike a balanced approach to amending government legislation with an outlook emphasizing — but not strictly limited to — the areas that are at the heart of the Senate’s institutional mission . . . .
Colleagues, I do believe that through the study of this bill, we have done just that. Several areas that Senator Harder identified include:
. . . the interplay of legislation with:
the Constitution of Canada, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the division of legislative powers between Parliament and the provincial and territorial legislators; and
Treaties and international agreements that Canada has ratified;
– the detrimental impact of legislation on minorities and economically disadvantaged groups;
– the impact of legislation on regions, provinces and territories, but with a view to the national interest of the federation as a whole;
– consultations conducted with stakeholder groups, if at all required by law; and
– the text of the legislation for drafting errors, serious unintended consequences or other potential oversights;
Well, colleagues, I do believe that the Senate’s amendments were crafted to address concerns surrounding each of those areas.
We can all agree that Senator Dean’s amendments, such as the addition of forgotten commas and corrections to the French version, addressed the drafting errors in this bill. Senator Seidman’s proposal to prohibit brand stretching was clearly aimed at addressing what the majority of this chamber believed was a potential oversight in an effort to protect our youth. Senator Petitclerc’s amendment sought to clarify the division of federal and provincial or territorial powers.
Honourable senators, laws that are local in nature generally fall into the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, and the provinces are granted jurisdiction over property and civil rights. Why can’t —
The Hon. the Speaker: I’m sorry for interrupting you. It being six o’clock, honourable senators, is it agreed that we not see the clock?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Patterson.
Senator Patterson: Why can’t provinces then decide that the damage of allowing plants to be grown in the home is too detrimental to allow, and why can’t they decide that growing marijuana in a dwelling house would impede the civil liberties of those in multiplexes who choose not to subject themselves to cannabis?
By the way, it’s not only Quebec and Manitoba that are concerned about this issue but also the Government of Nunavut.
And the list goes on. Senator Omidvar pushed to protect immigrants who may face disproportionate repercussions for sentences handed down that are less than six months. Senator White pushed for an amendment that addressed the concerns of expert witnesses that represent the chiefs of police of this country. Senator Carignan’s amendment was aimed at improving the legislation to make sure that we did not unintentionally provide the black market with a back door to the new licit trade by requiring that the names of shareholders and licensed facilities be made public.
Honourable senators, we have done our duty. We have a constitutional mandate, as Senator Harder outlined, to work to protect the regional interests, the minority interests. We have a constitutional duty to give voice to those who are under-represented: youth and immigrants. We have a constitutional duty to ensure that the laws that pass our chamber are free of error and prejudice and are in accordance with the Charter, the Constitution and international treaties. We have listened to expert witnesses and thoroughly, thoughtfully and passionately debated this bill for months. The amendments rejected are based on extensive study and were passed by a majority of this chamber. Every legislative change rejected fits into the areas outlined in Senator Harder’s paper.
We “ping,” but we generally ought not to “pong,” says Senator Harder. But I ask you, colleagues, if we do not stand our ground now, then when is it appropriate? If we do not push hard on a bill that the government itself has termed a piece of transformative public policy, then when should we exercise our constitutional mandate to improve legislation based on the areas that are at the heart of the Senate’s institutional mission?
Colleagues, I cannot accept this message.