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Perspectives — June 11 – 14, 2018
June 19, 2018

Last week at the Senate: The Cannabis Act and the Gender Equality Week Act.


On June 7, senators voted to send Bill C-45 back to the House of Commons with 45 amendments. Twelve of these were rejected by the House of Commons, including six from Conservative senators.

The Senate Conservative Caucus insisted there be a full debate on the marijuana bill. Senate leadership agreed to our timelines and structured debate.

The Trudeau government claims that the goal of Bill C-45 was to reduce harm. The proposed amendments by the Senate were in line with the government's strategy, so it is unclear why they have been refused. The government’s unwillingness to consider the amendments to better protect children, youth and all Canadians is disheartening. Our hope was to do everything we could to safeguard public health and safety.

The Senate was established with the goal of assuring regional representation; as such, senators are disappointed with the decision by the Trudeau government to reject the amendment that respects the provincial desires of Manitoba and Quebec on the issue of home cultivation of marijuana. The rejected amendment was added to ensure that provinces and territories had the right to safeguard their communities. The government’s decision contradicts the commitment to respect the boundaries of federal and provincial jurisdiction.

Quebec Government House Leader Jean-Marc Fournier denounced (link in French only) the lack of respect: “We will respect our legislation and tell the federal government that, next time, we will remember their lack of respect.”

The Trudeau government is going against the will of Quebec's National Assembly, against public safety and against experts on this important issue.

Independent Senate Liberals

Last week, we passed Bill C-309, which would establish the fourth week in September as Gender Equality Week. I was the sponsor of this bill in the Senate, and proud to have the unanimous support of all senators for this initiative.

Despite all our progress to date, women in Canada still face challenges. Poverty and inequality continue to disproportionately affect women, particularly elderly, disabled, transgender and visible minority women, leaving them isolated and vulnerable. Women are more likely than men to be victims of gender-based violence, including sexual assault and intimate partner violence, a phenomenon that disproportionately affects Indigenous women. Women continue to face barriers in pursuing and completing post-secondary education and pursuing careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

We know that women account for approximately half of the population, but there are still too few women involved in politics at every level of government. Too few women hold top executive positions in the private sector, and those that do are often paid less.

I hope that designating the fourth week of September as Gender Equality Week will stimulate thought and action on gender equality issues. We should all applaud this initiative, which aims to encourage all Canadians, especially men and people who do not identify as female, to do their part during Gender Equality Week. Only together can we make Canadian society more inclusive, and ultimately achieve full gender equality.

Independent Senators Group

We are likely just days away from the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada following 90 years of prohibition. Here are some brief reflections on the bill’s seven-month journey through the Senate...

This is a large and complex bill designed to tackle known harms to health and the devastating social impact of widespread criminalization. The Senate’s committee processes worked well in drawing important evidence from over 200 expert witnesses.

Some of the evidence we heard was contested, leaving senators with the hard task of weighing up testimony and bringing their best judgment to the fore. This was the case on the issue of age of legal access to cannabis where emerging evidence on brain development was cited by some as a reason to delay legal access to the drug into the early twenties. This was weighed against the prospect of driving the 20-25 year old cohort (who are the largest consumers of cannabis) to continue obtaining the drug from an untested and potentially dangerous illegal market.

The highlight for me was seeing Senate leaders’ agree on organized and themed debates at third reading of the bill.  This made for richer and more informed debates and allowed those outside the Senate to see what was coming up and follow our debates – and a great many did. We need to make this a regular way of doing business rather than an exception. I believe this is one of the things Canadians want to see from their Senate.