Does Trudeau Have Any Leverage In The Senate To Pass His Pot Bill?

Justin Trudeau as a Liberal Leader talks to media in Quebec City, says he has smoked marijuana only five or six times in his lifetime.
Justin Trudeau as a Liberal Leader talks to media in Quebec City, says he has smoked marijuana only five or six times in his lifetime. (File photo via The Canadian Press)

Before becoming Canada’s second-youngest premier, Trudeau as a Liberal Leader created more of an independent upper house, paving the way for non-partisan politics but not necessarily a hiccup-free road for Liberal party’s Cannabis Act.

Hardline Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu has long lobbied to delay the July 1 deadline put in place by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fully legalize marijuana nationwide.  

In an interview with Reuters in early November, Boisvenu dubbed the deadline as “too early,” describing Canadian police as ill-prepared for the widespread use of the drug.  

But Boisvenu told Reuters that Conservative senators will meet to discuss a strategy to delay Bill C-45 also known as the Cannabis Act if necessary, and hurray, they succeeded in buying some time. Trudeau announced on Tuesday that “next summer,” and not July 1 will be the sought-after time period for legalizing recreational weed, surprising many Canadians.

Legalizing recreational marijuana was one of Trudeau’s promises in his election campaign in 2015. But did Trudeau shoot himself in the foot much earlier when he expelled from his caucus every single Liberal member in the Red Chamber?

Trudeau made the move in early 2014 when he was a Liberal leader, before his election, possibly to make himself look like the promised reformist and probably to earn confident votes at the 2015 federal election.

His push at the time to create a more non-partisan Senate stunned many, especially lifelong Liberals and key party operators, who felt their power also stems from being part of the very inner circles.

Like his predecessor Conservative Premier Stephen Harper, Canada’s 105-member Senate – final nay or yea sayers on the bill – does not have all of its seats occupied.

With 11 seats still vacant, the Conservative party has 34 Senators or makes at least 36 per cent of the unelected upper house, with Liberals running as independents, with no real ties to the Liberal parliamentary machinery.

Trudeau is depending on his independent Senators appointees, but for some observers, they think he has no leverage at the Red Chamber.

“The government, if it had a clear majority in the Senate, could at one point impose party discipline and have its bill voted on. It’s not in that situation now,” Senator Andre Pratte, an independent who was appointed by Trudeau in 2016, told Reuters in an interview in early November.

Time can only unravel the works of the unelected Senate. Though Trudeau already had some rough experience with the upper house in June luckily, they did end up voting in favor of his budget bill without amendments.

The upper house’s opinionated approach on the former budget bill was dubbed more of an “activist approach,” marking a stark difference to the Red Chamber’s much more quieter nature if compared decades ago.

“What you’ve seen in the last year is sort of a natural evolution. The Senate is playing more of an activist role,” said Pratte, who pushed for changes to the budget bill, told Reuters in June.

“More senators are now independent of political parties, so we feel freer to suggest amendments than in the past,” Pratte added.

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A protester lights a joint during a 4-20 marijuana rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, April 20, 2012. (Image via The Canadian Press)

There is information one can glean especially at 3:30 pm (ET) on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 as the Senate will resolve itself into a committee of the whole to consider Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, and to hear from: Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health; Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness; and Bill Blair. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

Whether one can blame Trudeau for more of an outspoken Senate, time can only tell.

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