Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's oratory. He has obviously woken up the House. I am afraid I am going to put everyone back to sleep.
As I stand here with my colleagues, Canadians are paying close attention to the discussion we are having on the legalization of the distribution, sale, and possession of recreational marijuana in Canada. This subject no doubt evokes many emotions on all sides, and I know there can be some strongly held views on this issue.
I feel that the government has rushed into the bill without really stopping to consider all the consequences. The Liberals are doing it to meet a campaign commitment without considering all the repercussions and effects that this legislation scheme may have.
In April, shortly after the legislation was introduced by the Liberals, I had the opportunity to host a series of community round table meetings with municipal officials throughout my constituency. I met with mayors, reeves, councillors, MLAs, and media. One of the very major concerns that these officials had was with respect to the timeline of the bill. The Liberals have introduced this very broad legislation, setting the minimum age, the number of plants, and the potency of marijuana that can be sold. They then basically told the provinces and the territories to develop their own implementation plan for the rest. That means there could be 13 different regimes across Canada.
In the lead-up to what they knew was impending legislation from the feds, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association asked the Province of Alberta to act. As a result, in Alberta, the provincial NDP formed a secretariat to deal with this issue. That is great. The problem is that the secretariat in Alberta is excluding the municipalities from being part of it.
The Liberals keep talking about consultations with municipalities and municipal involvement, but how can this work? When the provinces are tasked with doing most of the heavy lifting for the feds, the municipalities are in fact left out of the decision-making process at the grassroots level.
As a former mayor for many years, I have a particular concern about the impact on communities and on municipalities. Municipalities are really concerned about this rush to legalize marijuana completely. They are concerned about the fact that they are going to have to pick up the tab for a variety of new responsibilities that are essentially being dumped on them overnight.
Municipalities will likely be responsible for enforcement and zoning, as well as for creating an entire new set of by-laws surrounding this new regime. With respect to zoning and by-laws, there will be a very long process. Staff will have to develop a plan. There will be public meetings and hearings. Advertising will have to be done. City staff will devote countless hours and resources over several months. There is a time factor here, and it cannot be rushed, which calls into question the government's timeline.
Licensing is not a cash cow, despite what some on the government side would have us believe. It will not be anywhere near what is required to cover the new costs this regime will impose on municipalities.
In a previous sitting of the House, I asked the Liberals what concrete actions they would be taking to support municipalities, seeing that they had dumped such a huge burden on them with very little time for them to adapt. The answer from the government side was quite generic, and it is not something I am particularly enthusiastic about. For example, the parliamentary secretary mentioned providing equipment and training, but did not mention who would pay for it. This does not help municipal planning.
Another area that will impact municipalities is they will have to rewrite their HR policies, because now they will have the threat of people coming to work under the influence of marijuana. The last thing any municipality wants is an employee operating heavy equipment while under the influence.
Enforcement as well means a whole new set of rules and regulations, planning, and money spent by municipalities.
The Liberals have essentially washed their hands of having to do any of the local work on this file. They have told municipalities, “Here is a big new change; you have about a year to implement it. Have a nice day.”
This is unfortunate, because I am sure that municipalities in my riding would have been willing to work collaboratively with the province, but they have been exempted from that. It is unfortunate that the province would not allow this to take place.
Another area of concern that I heard in the private sector while crisscrossing my riding hosting community roundtables was the concern surrounding workplace regulations regarding health and safety. Whether these organizations are small to medium-sized enterprises like ECS Safety Services in Brooks in my riding of Bow River or large outfits like oil and gas sector companies, there are some major concerns about work-related marijuana use.
As we know very well, my home province of Alberta has a large oil and gas sector, and it requires a significant amount of labour. These sectors now struggle at times to have enough clean employees. Coming under the influence of marijuana now is another significant challenge they are going to be facing.
I understand that the federal government must respect constitutional division of powers, and it says it is consulting with municipalities. It talks about some of the 22 major cities, like Toronto. In my riding, there are none of those 22 major cities. They are not talking about where the vast majority of our rural people live, so when they are talking about consulting, they are talking about some of the 22 major cities. That is not where I am from.
However, the Liberals can absolutely consult with the provinces to make sure they are going to support the municipalities. There is a process, if they wish to do it strongly enough. The federal government could, by funding, support these new powers for enforcement. It could come through the form of equal sharing of the tax revenue generated by legalized recreational marijuana. Let us consider the federal gas tax model, for example, where we cut out the middleman, which is the province, and the money goes directly to the municipalities, mostly. If it does not, it is property taxes that would end up covering the cost of this, because municipalities will be doing the heavy lifting at the grassroots level.
There are other ways the government may be able to support this as it rushes the terms of this brand new piece of legislation. However, if it does not take the time, if it pushes it too quickly, it will be the property tax payers as the major source of revenue for municipalities. As a result, taxes will go up in the local municipalities to pay for this scheme.
Lisa Holmes, president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, has said that many Alberta municipalities could theoretically be ready by 2019, one year or so later than the government's deadline. If there is any way the government could work with the provinces to provide them with some flexibility in timelines and implementation, this might work. Ms. Holmes understands that, otherwise, the only way this new regime would be paid for is by property taxes in municipalities.
Another group of those concerned are many of the provincial premiers, including Liberal premiers. The NDP Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, has expressed concerns about the short timeline.
There are many other issues that are arising from this legalization. For example, I found it somewhat distressing that we are going to be encouraging people, including young people, to smoke marijuana now, when for years we have been trying to get people to stop smoking. For years, I was involved in a regional health care board, and I was also an educator. We worked very hard with the resources we had to deliver public education on anti-smoking issues. We worked hard to educate youth as young as 10 years old on the hazards of tobacco smoke. The goal of these campaigns was to ensure that these youth never started smoking, period. In one case, we had more money to do this than the Liberals are spending across the country in five years. The $9 million spread out so meagrely over five years is tragic. It is simply not enough.
There is an opportunity here to mandate that federal taxes go to municipalities for health promotion and prevention. A specific percentage should be mandated by the federal government to ensure that prevention is being adequately funded, because $9 million is just blatantly wrong.
In tobacco prevention, one of the biggest at-risk groups, where prevention was least successful, was with pregnant teenagers. We already have a situation where these young pregnant girls, the mother and unborn child, are at risk. With Bill C-45, the Liberals are adding a new toxic substance that is going to put these girls and unborn children at even more risk. Here is a disturbing fact. One in seven teenagers will get addicted to smoking marijuana once they begin smoking it. In single, pregnant teens, that number is even going to be higher.
The government is facilitating this more by its outright legalization. It is facilitating it by making it easier for teenagers to get their hands on marijuana. This is the reason we need significant funding for prevention, and it is up to the federal government to take the lead. It is not enough to simply download it.
With all this in mind, I look forward to continuing debate on Bill C-45, with the hope that the government will reconsider the timeline. We really need that reconsidered.