Ontario Liberals accused of rushing marijuana plan to distract from gas plants, bribery trials

Patrick Brown, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario is photographed during a scrum at the Ontario legislature on April 5 2016. Fred Lum / The Globe and Mail

TORONTO – Ontario’s marijuana plan was rushed out in an attempt to distract from a pair of high-profile trials involving Liberal party workers, the province’s opposition parties said Monday as the legislature resumed.

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said that in a bid to distract, the government announced the marijuana plan last week before fully considering both public safety and public health issues.

“I think the timing is quite obvious on this,” Brown said. “The Liberals are very good. They are professional campaigners. Right now, they’re trying to have a rushed announcement as a distraction technique. They don’t want us talking about the Liberal corruption trials. They want us talking about some salacious issue.”

READ MORE: Marijuana consumers, advocates critical of Ontario’s plan to sell legal pot

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Brown said his party won’t support the plan in its current state when it’s presented to the legislature this fall. He noted that no other province in the country has proposed its recreational marijuana framework.

“It’s a big social change that should not be rushed to suit a political timeline,” he said. “No other province in Canada is rushing this. This is too important. It’s too important to keep our streets safe.”

On Friday, the Liberal government announced that it will sell marijuana in as many as 150 dedicated stores run by the province’s liquor control board and the legal age to buy it will be 19 years old.

WATCH: Fri, Sep 8: The LCBO will run new standalone pot shops and marijuana and alcohol will not be sold together. Alan Carter has more.

Click to play video 'The Breakdown: Ontario plan for legal marijuana leaves many questions unanswered' The Breakdown: Ontario plan for legal marijuana leaves many questions unanswered
The Breakdown: Ontario plan for legal marijuana leaves many questions unanswered – Sep 8, 2017

Ontario residents will also be able to purchase marijuana at separate retail outlets or through a government-run website. The government has said one of its priorities is clamping down on illegal distribution channels.

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In July, Canada’s premiers told the federal government they needed answers to questions surrounding the legalization of cannabis or they’d need more time to get their rules in place. They asked for clarification around road safety and enforcement, preparation and training on distribution, taxation, public education, and supply and demand and the impact legalization might have on the black market.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the government must put social responsibility first in its legislation, but she noted that the proposal rolled out Friday didn’t say how it will achieve that.

READ MORE: Ontario to sell marijuana in 150 government-run stores; must be used in ‘private residences’

“We don’t know what the taxation levels are going to be,” Horwath said. “We don’t know what the pricing is going to be. We don’t know what the product availability is going to be in terms of what’s going to be marketable in the province. There are far more questions than answers.”

Two Liberals face Election Act bribery charges trial in Sudbury related to a 2015 byelection, while another pair face mischief and the breach of trust trial in Toronto related to the cancellation of two gas plants before the 2011 election.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said the timing of the marijuana announcement was about ensuring the government plan was in place before the federal deadline to regulate recreational marijuana of July 2018.

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“We have less than 10 months to go (before) the proposed date of legalization,” Naqvi said. “We wanted to make sure as we were coming back for the fall session that we outline our legislative approach because we will be bringing that important bill to the legislature.”