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Senators have their eyes on the ball as game-changing marijuana bill and other key legislation looms: Senator Smith
Senators have their eyes on the ball as game-changing marijuana bill and other key legislation looms: Senator Smith
February 6, 2018
OPINION
Image of Larry W. Smith
Larry W. Smith, Quebec

In a fast-changing world — where politics moves as quickly as your Twitter feed and popular support is counted in likes — having a sober, steady hand on the wheel can make the difference between a smooth or a very bumpy ride. 

With Parliament sitting again, debate will soon begin in the Senate on a number of important pieces of legislation — especially Bill C-45, which aims to legalize the production, possession and use of marijuana, and Bill C-46 which is meant to address drug-impaired driving concerns. Canadians can count on senators to perform their constitutional duty of providing sober second thought — and not to rush bills through the way our House of Commons colleagues did last year.

Indeed, the Senate is designed to balance out the power of the Commons by giving voice to and protecting the rights of Canada's regions, particularly regions and Provinces with small populations that do not have strength-by-numbers in the Commons. Further, it reassured les Québécois et les Québécoises that their language, religion, culture and vision for the future would not be overshadowed by the greater whole.

Senators often bring a range of their own professional experience to Parliament, coming from a variety of backgrounds —justice, science, and in my case, business and sport. It often gives us insight into the perspectives of stakeholders that government can easily choose to ignore.

In short, without the Senate, this federation would risk losing its balance. That’s why the Supreme Court rightly ruled in 2014 that the Senate occupies a fundamental place in Canada’s political system — a concrete role that could not be changed without re-opening the Constitution. Indeed, the Senate plays a crucial oversight role, taking a deeper look at the effects of government legislation.

Canadians can expect that same degree of caution as the Senate begins studying the government’s marijuana legislation. Many questions remain unanswered. Will legalizing marijuana really protect our youth? Will it really eliminate the black market? Does this bill negatively impact public safety or mental health? Are law enforcement officers prepared and equipped for these changes? Are the provinces ready to regulate this huge shift? Have our First Nations been consulted? How long will someone have to wait after consuming marijuana to drive a car or go to work? Have we done everything required to protect the health and well-being of our children and youth?

To date, much can be learned from the example of Colorado — the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2014. While the Prime Minister says Bill C-45 is intended to keep drugs out of the hands of young people, in Colorado youth consumption has doubled since legalization. The state also mounted a huge public awareness campaign to educate citizens on the negative impacts of marijuana consumption well before legalization — something our country has yet to start.

As a father and grandfather I worry that there will be wide-reaching implications of legalizing marijuana on our families and neighbourhoods — therefore as a senator I am compelled to examine this bill thoroughly and bring forward valuable contributions in the best interest of Canadians.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been feeling the pressure coming from the Trudeau Government to rush this legislation through — as an independent body the Senate should not be subject to political encumbrance.  The Trudeau Government is putting its own political intents before the health and safety of Canadians by establishing the arbitrary deadline of July 1, 2018. We should never compromise the public safety of Canadians for purely an electoral promise.

Last week, we heard the recommendations from the Canadian Association of Paediatric Health Centres and the Paediatric Chairs of Canada on the dangerous health implications of the legalization of recreational marijuana on children and youth. 

Senators have the responsibility to hear the concerns of Canadians to ensure there are no voids in this — or in any — legislation. That is the constitutional role senators play and one that all of my colleagues take very seriously. If there are voids, and we have heard the concerns from many stakeholders that there are, amendments will be needed to guarantee the best outcome for Canadians.

The Hon. Larry W. Smith is a senator representing Saurel, Quebec. He is the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.