The Liberal government’s cannabis legalization bill cleared a key vote Thursday evening, passing 44 to 29 at second reading and sending it off to committee review.
It came amid uncertainty over whether the government would have enough support to keep the bill alive after a number of Tories threatened to vote against it. It became clear they wanted a standing vote – a political play that demanded butts in seats for the bill to pass. Heading into the vote, a number of Conservatives expressed deep dissatisfaction with the way it was written.
In the lead up to the vote, Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate, said he was concerned it could be “close,” noting a number of senators were travelling.
Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminded senators that the Liberals were elected on a promise to legalize recreational pot.
Harder said it was an unusual situation, but he was grateful senators returned from committee travel and made the vote their highest priority.
The Independent Senators Group sent out a note Wednesday morning asking Independents to return to Ottawa for the vote, which was expected to be close if enough senators weren’t in the chamber.
Conservative Sen. Don Plett said their recall to Ottawa shows the Independents were “whipped” on the vote.
“That’s what a whip does,” he told reporters.
Independent Sen. Yuen Pau Woo said he was surprised by the strong showing of force against the bill from the Conservatives because there was an agreed upon timeline for the bill, along with a set day for its final vote in the Senate – “implicitly” meaning it would go to committee.
“If there’s a bloc of senators, 33 or so who want to vote against it, and there’s a risk of the bill being defeated at second reading, it’s only right that the facilitators of the Independent Senators Group let our members know about the situation, tell them about the importance of the vote, and let them come back and make their own decisions about the vote.”
He said there was no “contact” or “pressure” from the Prime Minister’s Office over the vote.
Plett said afterward he thinks some Independents are “going to try to help us fix this flawed bill,” and that not everyone who voted to pass it today did so because they like it, but rather they want to send it off for further study.
In the debate leading up to the vote, Conservative Senate Leader Larry Smith defended their move to oppose the bill forcefully, saying senators haven’t yet been reduced to a “group of consultants.”
“Please don’t tell us we’re being obstructionist or not doing our job,” he said. “We are doing our job.”
“Don’t say to us we’re the ones that are blocking things. You’re the ones that have to get it done.”
A third reading vote in the Senate is set on or before June 7.
The Liberal government wants cannabis legalized this summer, originally saying by July.
By Kyle Duggan – ipolitics
Image by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld