Conservatives hammer Liberals on marijuana stock surge
Conservative MPs pressed the government hard Wednesday on a spike in trading in marijuana company stocks two weeks ago, alleging the Liberals may have leaked an upcoming report into legal weed.
On Nov. 16, the TSX halted trading on six different medical marijuana companies over the course of the day -- some of them several times. The halts were automatically triggered by wild swings in prices.
Conservative MP Alex Nuttall says those trading surges make him suspect somebody leaked a report by a federal task force studying how to legalize recreational pot use.
Nuttall has provided no proof of a leak or any wrongdoing. But the Ontario MP sent a letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould earlier this week to demand she investigate.
On Wednesday, Nuttall singled out one of the companies, as well as its founder.
"Stock trading on the TSX was halted for Canopy Growth after their stock doubled for no apparent reason," Nuttall said in question period.
"Canopy was founded by Chuck Rifici, the former chief financial officer of the Liberal Party of Canada... Was the marijuana task force report leaked?" he said.
Conservative MP Blaine Calkins referred to Canopy Chairman Bruce Linton and President Mark Zekulin as Liberal party donors.
"Something doesn't add up here unless you're a well-connected Liberal pot shareholder," Calkins said in the House of Commons.
Rifici is no longer with Canopy Growth Corp. -- he’s now a director on the board of Aurora, another company that saw trading halted.
Speaking to CTV News by phone, Rifici credited the surge in trading to increased interest in cannabis stocks.
"The world is moving beyond cannabis prohibition and investors are piling into these stocks,” he said. “For the record, I have not received any insider information.”
Jordan Sinclair, a spokesperson for Canopy Growth Corp., said the surge in trading on Nov. 16 is most likely due to the U.S. election, which saw three states vote to legalize recreational marijuana use. Plus, investors look to Canadian cannabis companies because recreational marijuana will be legal federally, which is not the case in the U.S., he said.
"The allegations in the House today, it's a part of political theatre, but completely unfounded," Jordan Sinclair said in an interview with CTV News.
"All of this is just a reach... it doesn't stand up to closer analysis."
Zekulin is a former Ontario Liberal staffer, while Linton donates to a number of parties, Sinclair said.
Canopy's value rose that day from over $1 billion to $2 billion, though that was a temporary value as the stock dropped again by the end of the day.
"With the prospect of being a recreational cannabis company, there's a lot more excitement around it and certainly a greater market opportunity... it's not that unfounded to think that the valuation would increase," Sinclair said.
The company made one of nearly 300 submissions from organizations to the task force, but its role was no different than any other company, he said.
Nuttall said Tuesday he is basing his allegation of a leak on the fact the stock rose substantially on Nov. 16. The stock closed lower than it started the day.
Neither Wilson-Raybould or Health Minister Jane Philpott directly addressed the Conservatives' questions.
"We are very pleased that an excellent task force has been hard at work over a number of months," Philpott said.
"They have been tasked to respond to a number of questions that were put to them by myself as well as my colleague[s]: the minister for public safety and the minister for justice. We look forward to the task force delivering its document later today and in due time it will be made public to all Canadians."
The report will take another two weeks at least, said task force chair Anne McLellan on Wednesday.
The former justice minister released a statement to note the task force filed its final report Wednesday, but said the report won't be made public until mid-December because it needs to be translated. None of the cabinet ministers responsible for the task force -- Philpott, Wilson-Raybould and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale -- will see it until then.
"We sought the views of a diverse community of experts, professionals, advocates, front-line workers, government officials, citizens and employers," said McLellan and Dr. Mark Ware, the task force's vice-chair.
"It has been a privilege to engage with so many people over the last five months, and we are thankful to all those who provided their input, time and energy."