Pot legalization bill back in Senate’s hands as feds race ticking clock
The clock is ticking for the federal government’s hallmark legislation to legalize marijuana.
With the House of Commons set to rise for summer recess on Friday, the government is facing down a time crunch to get its bill through the Senate – again – for final approval before it goes on to receive royal assent and become law.
A Conservative filibuster on Thursday night cost the government a day of debate on the bill.
Two more hours of debate took place on Monday before the members voted to send it to the Senate, but the question now is whether the government will be able to get it through the Red Chamber, where it faces continued opposition given the government’s rejection of several key Senate amendments, within the next five days.
Officials have accused the Conservatives both in the House of Commons and the Senate of stalling the bill, but acknowledged that every attempt they have made so far is entirely within the rules.
So, what options does the government have now?
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Time allocation and extending sitting hours are the two big ones.
The Liberals have already extended sitting hours until midnight from Mondays to Thursdays until June 22 to clear the backlog of bills still jammed in the House of Commons.
And while the government has given notice of time allocation on the cannabis bill, it has not yet done so.
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Apart from deciding to impose time allocation — which limits the hours of debate on a bill — or coming to agreement with the opposition to end debate, there isn’t really any procedural trump card the government can use to speed up passage of the bill.
“That’s about it,” said Peter Milliken, former Liberal Speaker of the House of Commons, noting the only other option might be to start eating into summer recess.
“It’s not easy but they could certainly move a motion to have the House sit after adjournment.”
Milliken said he can’t recall a case of the House of Commons extending its sitting past the date it was scheduled to rise for the summer.
But one government official, who spoke on background with Global News, said it’s not out of the question, though there are no plans right now to do so.
That could change by the middle of the week if it begins to look like the bill will not get through the Senate by Friday.
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Senators had earlier this month amended the bill to change language allowing home growing of marijuana.
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor rejected that amendment, which is a core concern for senators reviewing the bill.
Now, senators, who are not accountable to voters and are appointed to provide “sober second thought,” must decide what to do next.
They can either accept the bill from the government without their recommended amendments or push back and refuse to approve the bill, even though elected MPs have already done so.
Conservatives make up the biggest voting bloc in the Senate but do not hold the majority of seats.
Those go to the Independent Senators Group, which does not generally vote as a partisan block because its members were appointed outside of any formal caucus.
Almost all of the members of the Independent Senators Group, most of whom were appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have voted in favour of the bill so far and one source in the Senate told Global News there’s a strong sense they will do so again this week.