Conservative staffer fired for urging senators to delay final vote on pot legalization
The Senate chamber is seen ahead of question period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, May 11, 2018 3:55PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 11, 2018 5:18PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Senators are being encouraged to postpone a vote on a bill to legalize recreational cannabis by a now-former employee of the Conservative's chief critic of the legislation.
Sen. Claude Carignan said Friday he did not authorize Malcolm Armstrong, whom he'd hired on contract to advise him on the marijuana issue, to propose delaying the vote. The Conservative senator called the idea "crazy" and unrealistic.
Indeed, Carignan said he fired Armstrong on Friday after finding out he'd circulated a paper among independent senators urging them to postpone the final vote on Bill C-45 until they hear back from a special committee that he suggested should be set up to study aspects of legalization that have not yet been adequately considered.
A spokeswoman for Conservative Senate leader Larry Smith disavowed the paper and said the Conservatives continue to abide by an agreement among all Senate factions to hold a final vote on the bill by June 7 -- a timetable aimed at allowing the Trudeau government to meet its commitment to having retail sales of legal marijuana available late this summer.
That deadline could not have been met were senators to adopt the proposal advanced by Armstrong. In his paper, he argued that a special committee is needed to conduct a thorough examination of a lengthy list of complex issues -- including the impact of high-potency cannabis on the formation of sperm, the societal impact of online cannabis sales and whether Indigenous people are "negatively predisposed to cannabis, like alcohol."
"This document does not reflect our views," Smith's spokeswoman, Karine Leroux, said in a statement.
"It is inconsistent with our approach to the bill, the due diligence being applied to it by our caucus, and our work with our Senate colleagues over the past number of weeks. To date, we are satisfied with the process of examination taking place on Bill C-45 and anticipate no change with the third reading vote set for on or before June 7th, 2018."
Carignan, who is the lead Conservative senator on C-45, said in an interview that he hired Armstrong a few months ago on a short-term contract to advise him on the bill. That contract was cut short Friday.
"He was finished today," Carignan said.
While he welcomed the Conservatives' repudiation of the paper, Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the Independent Senators Group, said the incident raises questions about why Armstrong was hired in the first place, who was supervising him and what instructions he received from his employer.
Woo noted that Armstrong's paper was laid out and designed to look like an official Senate report, complete with the upper chamber's logo. It identified the author only as "Dr. Malcolm Armstrong," with no mention that he worked for a senator. Armstrong is not a medical doctor; he has a PhD in philosophy.
The fact that the paper was distributed to independent senators left Woo wondering if it was designed to trick them into delaying the vote, rather than have Conservative senators take the heat for breaking the agreement to vote by June 7.
"Clearly, all of those thoughts crossed my mind," Woo said in an interview.
"This initiative is a rogue initiative -- there is no other way of putting it -- that is intended to mislead individuals, senators into thinking that (postponing the vote) is somehow sanctioned or part of an official Senate review process which subverts, I guess, the official, rigorous process that is already taking place."