Business of Supply
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise in debate on the opposition day motion brought forward by the NDP. In many ways, having listened to speakers from the government side, particularly the member for Scarborough Southwest, it has me thinking it is Wednesday on the Hill, not Monday. His speech seemed more like yoga on the Hill, where he twisted and contorted himself into different positions, trying to claim that the Liberal track record was on the side of evidence, yet not getting there. It was an interesting speech, and I will address what that hon. member said.
The one thing my friend from Victoria and the NDP bring forward, which makes sense with this motion, is the contradiction facing the government. The motion begins with trying to recognize the contradiction. It is my position, and I think that of my colleagues in the Conservative caucus, that we do not fill a bad policy vacuum with more bad policy. The end state of the opposition day motion is to immediately decriminalize marijuana. I do not think any responsible advocate would say that would be the approach to a wild west situation.
However, I understand the frustration of the New Democrats, because there is a degree of wild west out there right now. My friend from Oshawa talked about the new dispensary that opened in his community. We have seen this in Vancouver and Toronto, and a lot of parts of the country because of the vacuum created by an irresponsible, ill thought-out promise by the Prime Minister when he was third party leader.
There were a number of reasons for his bold policy statement, but one of them was to cover up his own use of marijuana while he was a member of Parliament. However, we do not create public policy based on our own situation or in response to what we feel would be the political debate. We actually do consult the experts. We listen. My friend from Winnipeg speaks more in the House than anyone, but seems to listen very little. I hope he would change that too.
The Liberals talk about evidence in science. The evidence is before us on the scientific front. Marijuana significantly harms the developing brain. Therefore, the motion today that would quickly decriminalize a drug is irresponsible. So is the approach of the vacuum created by the government as it lumbers toward fully legalizing and in some ways legitimizing marijuana.
The evidence is crystal clear. I did not hear the member for Scarborough Southwest say much about that when he talked about evidence. I did hear the member, the former chief of police from Toronto, quote at length the member of Parliament for Outremont. He seemed to revel in that quote, so I will quote the member for Scarborough Southwest. Years ago in the Scarborough Mirror, a paper that serves the riding he represents, he said while chief of police:
We do not support the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana…that sends an appalling and inappropriate message and is not going to do anything to reduce the harm in our communities…
That is an interesting quote. We did not hear those words from him today. As a politician now, he is the one charged with filling this vacuum about which all communities are concerned. He seems to have changed his position and given no reason for it.
He did refer to evidence of scientists and law enforcement. Let us look at the evidence from law enforcement.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which that member used to belong to, has looked at the public policy ramification of legalization and decriminalization. It came up with a policy that most recently the Conservative convention in Vancouver endorsed. In fact, my friend from Beaches—East York should do a little more research. It is not decriminalization. It is ensuring that there is not a direct route for small amounts straight to the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act, the criminal route. It is called “discretion for law enforcement in ticketing”.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police passed resolution 3 in Winnipeg in 2013. The member for Scarborough Southwest, the now parliamentary secretary charged with leaving this vacuum on marijuana, was part of the conference. With respect to marijuana, it said that because of “a negative impact on public safety and the health of young persons” and because it impaired cognitive function, there needed to be a hybrid solution that allowed law enforcement and society to keep control through criminalization of this drug, but to give discretion to law enforcement.
I think none of us wants to see the scenario of a young person whose career or travel opportunities are cut short by personal use. We have evolved as a society. In fact, since 2013, when the member was a member of the Canadian Chiefs of Police Association, as a member of Parliament, I was taking that position, which at the time was contrary to my own party’s position. Why was that? It was because my old colleague, and our friend David Wilks, a lifelong RCMP officer, brought forward the proposal, in conjunction with the chiefs of police, and made a public policy rationale and argument for it. He worked diligently, and I salute David. He lost in the last election and that is too bad. His policy work as an independent MP has been more profound and substantive than the entire government.
The member for Scarborough Southwest says that the government is taking an evidence-based approach, but then he disregards the evidence from the group to which he belonged, the chiefs of police, and from the medical profession, and allows this lawlessness to exist.
That is where I agree with my friends in the NDP, recognizing the contradiction when the Prime Minister said that this product would be legal if people voted for him. Now we are waiting. There is indecision, and mental and physical yoga in trying to justify its delays and positions.
When the Liberals made that promise, they knew Canada would be in violation of international treaties. They knew science supported the fact that chronic use of marijuana could lead to cognitive impairment on the developing brain. They knew the risks to public safety. They knew there would be a wild west approach to these street front retail locations that hoped to be the stores when the member for Scarborough Southwest finally unveiled his plan. This is like the gold rush. They are all staking their claim.
When I was veterans affairs minister, groups suggested to veterans that medical marijuana would cure their PTSD. That bothered me to no end because the science did not support that. In fact, the chair of research for the Canadian Psychiatric Association was the first witness at public safety committee. He said that there was no clinical support for PTSD assistance through medical marijuana. In fact, reports suggest the contrary. Groups also trying to get storefronts are in some cases trying to sign up more and more people, not always concerned whether that is the right treatment option for them.
What I would like to see from the government, particularly from that member, is a more succinct discussion on the harms of the substance. I took a position contrary to my party. I said that we could not have the criminal ramifications for young people for personal use that did not cause any harm. However, no man is an island, as the old expression goes. We cannot permit a drug to be decriminalized with one vote in the House without an approach to ensure there are controls and criminal sanction when warranted.
What I like about the NDP’s opposition motion is that it is at least bringing up the issue. The Liberals ran very hard on it. We all remember the drives they did on university and college campuses. Now we have this indecision being filled by operators, and there is no suggestion the federal government is going to take a leadership role to stop that. We saw Mayor Tory in Toronto crack down, and we applaud him for that. However, the government, which ran on this, is avoiding responsibility to have a serious discussion on it, much like the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police did in 2013, to not only talk about the harms, but also how we can reduce the criminal sanction and the impact for someone who has not caused harm to others.
I hope the debate today starts off a process of the government becoming responsible for the vacuum it has created and the uncertainty and criminal activity that surrounds it. I hope it comes up with a solution before the House rises.