Yesterday I spoke about my support for the 7 substantive policy recommendations designed by the joint Standing Committees to improve the government’s planning and program development related to the legalization of cannabis.
Today, I would like to speak more specifically about the content of Bill 6. First, I want to start by recognizing that the short and demanding time frame for development of this bill was set by the federal government and was not ideal. I appreciate the work that my Cabinet colleagues have done to get legislation before us prior to the federal legalization date, to ensure that we do not get stuck with the default federal framework.
With that said, however, as I suggested yesterday, I feel that the GNWT could have done more to develop a bill that meets the needs of northerners while also preparing for legalization.
In my Member’s statement at the beginning of this sitting, I voiced my concerns that this government is not doing enough to assist northerners by supporting employment initiatives and those designed to lower the cost of living. As I mentioned, we have seen:
- Power rate increases equating to a near 40 per cent over the last seven years;
- New airport taxes which increase the cost of everything through air transport;
- Increased land lease fees by up to 300 per cent;
- Increased medical service fees;
- Increased Dehcho bridge tolls;
- And, coming soon, a land transfer tax and an NWT carbon tax, which will be on top of Alberta’s carbon tax that we already pay on goods and services from the South.
In this context, and recognizing that the GNWT loses approximately $30,000 in federal transfer payments for every resident that leaves the Northwest Territories in search of employment elsewhere, you would think that the GNWT would welcome legalization of cannabis for the employment potential it brings to the NWT. Instead, we have, in Bill 6, a proposal that would see the GNWT retain a large proportion of the revenues that will flow from the sale of cannabis, except for those that go to a select group of business people currently already selling alcohol, on commission from the GNWT, through 7 liquor stores in 6 communities.
I am deeply disappointed that Bill 6 does little to acknowledge or capitalize on the job creation opportunities that cannabis legalization brings. The Liquor Store model, which the government has made a policy decision to implement, shuts out those who want to be a part of this business opportunity at the outset. As well, Bill 6 does not consider the regulation of establishments allowing for the consumption of cannabis – sometimes referred to as “cannabis cafes.” For this reason, the Standing Committees could not even contemplate amending the Bill to allow for such establishments. I can only hope that economic development will be given much higher priority when the Legislative Assembly reviews this legislation during the 19th Assembly – a requirement, I might add, that was included in Bill 6 as an amendment put forward by the joint Committees and supported by Minister Sebert during Monday’s public clause by clause review.
Speaking of the clause by clause review, I want to point out, for the benefit of members of the public who are listening in, that the Committees moved 22 motions to amend the Bill at that meeting. Of those, 9 were motions developed by government to address deficiencies in the Bill. While government may occasionally ask Standing Committees to put forward a motion to correct an oversight or drafting error in a bill, it is not common to see so many changes, or ones as substantive as some of these – for example, the motion to amend the Bill to give the GNWT regulation-making authority over cultivation, or the motions to create new sections addressing transitional rules for cannabis cultivation and smoking in rental properties and condominium corporations. These are significant changes to the Bill that the public did not have the opportunity to be consulted on because the GNWT failed to conceive of their need when Bill 6 was developed. The fact that even the government found it necessary to make significant changes to the original bill suggests to me that the joint Committees have all the more reason to make further important amendments to improve Bill 6.
Which brings me to my final point as I conclude my general comments, Mr. Chair. Of the 22 motions moved by the joint Committees at the clause by clause review, there were 2 that were carried by the Committees, but which the Minister declined to concur with. I understand that these motions will be moved during today’s proceeding and I will have further comments at that time.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
To the Motion Committees’ motion to amend subsection 5(1) Privatization of Retail
Mr. Chair, I understand that this motion was developed by Committee as a response to the government’s stated policy decision to refrain from granting vendor rights to any vendor, other than liquor store vendors, for at least two years. The fact that the Minister declined to concur with this amendment demonstrates, to me, the degree to which the GNWT wants to ensure their authority to implement their policy to see cannabis sold only through liquor stores for at least two years.
This begs the question, “Why?” As I suggested in my remarks yesterday, I believe the government is determined to reserve cannabis revenues for its own coffers, to the greatest extent possible. There is nothing in Bill 6 right now that requires the Minister to give fair consideration to private citizens who want to become legal cannabis vendors. We must simply trust the government when they say that they will consider opening the sales model to private vendors. The Committees’ motion would ensure that private vendors are given fair consideration from the start.
We have heard the government say that they don’t anticipate cannabis revenues to be all that significant. In fact, in this year’s Budget Address, the Minister of Finance said [quote] Early estimates indicate that revenues from cannabis for the GNWT will be modest and that there are likely to be some increased expenditure pressures. [end quote]. Contrast that with the following observation from the Chief Economist at CIBC World Markets who said that [quote] if businesses are allowed to set up cannabis shops and compete in the same way that other retailers do, Canadians could be buying as much as $10 billion worth of marijuana products a year.[end quote]. By that estimate, the Canadian cannabis market is expected to bring in $1 billion more per year than the $9 billion in beer sales that occur annually in Canada right now…and we all know how Canadians love their beer! At least one industry analyst predicts that the Canadian cannabis market is more likely to be closer to $20 billion per year in sales.
My point, Mr. Chair, is that by its insistence on selling cannabis through liquor stores, the GNWT is denying NWT retailers, who are not already liquor vendors, the opportunity to enter this new market at the outset, with the opportunity to learn and grow alongside liquor vendors who choose to sell cannabis and to reap a fair share of the profits.
Unfortunately, this is all too consistent with the general approach of this Cabinet, which seems thoroughly convinced that government can do a better job at just about everything than our capable private citizens can. Let me remind you, Mr. Chair, this is the same government that pulled a public board of directors of the NWT Power Corporation and replaced it with a board comprised of Deputy Ministers who report to Cabinet. Like it or not, this is a pattern with this government, and we see it again in Bill 6, through their stated policy intention to sell cannabis solely through liquor stores.
I will be supporting the Committees’ motion, because it will not prevent the GNWT from selling cannabis through liquor stores, but it will ensure that other entrepreneurs who meet the criteria and requirements set out in regulations, will be given fair consideration in their applications to become cannabis vendors. I believe strongly in the entrepreneurial spirit and capabilities of northern business people and I believe they can rise to meet whatever conditions are set by the GNWT.
Thank-you Mr. Chair.
To the Motion [Government’s “compromise” motion to amend subsection 5(1)]
Mr. Chair, this motion was floated by the government earlier this week as a [quote] compromise [end quote] alternative to the Committee’s motion that was just defeated. Mr. Chair, this is not a compromise, it is a tactic by this government designed to undermine the work of the Standing Committees. And as we have just seen by the defeat of the previous motion, the tactic appears to have worked.
I want to be perfectly clear about the effect of this motion, Mr. Chair. The motion requires the Minister to bring in regulations, within six months, [quote] prescribing criteria to guide the Minister in considering whether the designation of a person as a vendor is in the public interest [end quote]. The government seems to have convinced some members that this six month timeline is a compromise over the two year period the government first said it would adhere to, when Bill 6 was introduced. What was apparently not made clear was that, while the Committees’ motion would have obligated the Minister to give fair consideration to all vendor applications that meet the prescribed criteria, this motion gives the Minister full discretion in determining whether or not a vendor designation is in the public interest. So, if the Minister determines that it is in the public interest only to designate liquor store vendors to sell cannabis, and that it is not in the public interest to designate private vendors, then even with prescribed criteria in place within 6 months, there is still no obligation on the GNWT to open up the sales of cannabis beyond liquor stores. A TACTIC, Mr. Chair, NOT a compromise.
I will not be supporting this motion, which makes little meaningful improvement over the original subsection in Bill 6.
I am deeply disappointed that it does not have the effect of bringing an end to the government’s plan to sell cannabis only through liquor stores at the outset of legalization and I intend to work hard to push this government to move in that direction as quickly as possible.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
To the Motion [Committees’ motion to amend subsection 5(6) – prevent co-location by requiring separate entrances].
Mr. Chair, the joint Committees’ heard that people in the Northwest Territories are concerned about the impact of cannabis legalization, and they don’t want it to worsen the already severe impacts that alcohol abuse has in our communities. This motion prevents the co-location of alcohol and cannabis sales by requiring that, where these substances are sold in a single building, there be two separate entrances. This is consistent with the findings of the federal task force on legalization and will help minimize impulse purchasing of either substance. It will also make one-stop shopping for bootleggers a little less convenient.
For these reasons I will be supporting the motion.