Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to be here today to take part in the discussion surrounding Bill C-45, an act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code, and other acts. It is also known informally as the cannabis act.
On this side of the House it has always been a top priority to stand up for the health and safety of Canadians, and I would like to thank all of my Conservative colleagues for their hard work in that regard. We are committed to making sure that the voices of everyday Canadians are heard, no matter what the issue might be.
To that end, I feel I am privileged to stand here today and speak to the effects this legislation may have on the Canadian public, and to ensure that the Liberals understand the implications of this policy.
I must mention that I find it rather rich that the Liberals are willing to take years to consult Canadians about basic economic projects, but they have no issue ramming through legislation like Bill C-45 in a matter of months.
The bill represents a seismic shift in our society. With prohibition repealed in the 1920s, alcohol and tobacco have been legal, on and off, for nearly 150 years, and yet we are still working out the kinks of the policy framework for these substances. To think it is a good idea to rush legislation that would have such a wide-ranging and drastic effect across the entire country is short-sighted and ill-advised.
Bill C-45 is a very complex piece of legislation that touches on many aspects of people's lives. One of the things I am most concerned about with respect to the legal age of cannabis is the potential effects it could have on the health of Canadians. This means that we do not have very much science and evidence-based research on the effects of this drug. This was acknowledged in the final report of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, which states:
We are aware of the shortcomings in our current knowledge base around cannabis and the effects of cannabis on human health and development.
That is concerning. I do not think it is unreasonable to want to have a full understanding of the health effects of cannabis use before it is legalized. That way, we can ensure that the proper framework, policies, and guidelines are put in place before making the substance readily available across the country. Instead, the Liberals are rushing this legislation through the House in hopes of keeping their promised timeline of having the bill reach royal assent before July 2018. Keeping campaign promises is all well and good, but doing it without the full knowledge of the implications of the bill is really irresponsible.
As mentioned, the main areas of concern I have with the bill are the impacts it would have on the Canadian health care system. Before I became an MP, I was a chiropractor and a primary care provider. I have seen first-hand how the abuse of intoxicating substances affects the health of individuals like us.
When it comes to cannabis, studies show that the earlier cannabis use begins and the more frequently and longer it is used, the greater the risk of potential developmental harm, some of which may be long-lasting or permanent. This becomes problematic given that Bill C-45 would make cannabis more accessible to everyone, including youth.
This goes back to my point that we do not fully understand the health effects of cannabis use. What we do know is that the brain continues to develop up to the age of 25, meaning that people who use it before that age are putting themselves at risk. There are associations between frequent cannabis use and mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychoses.
At this point, current science is not definitive on a safe age for cannabis use. Why is it that the Liberals, who love to study and consult everything under the sun, have no issue with rapidly ramming through legislation that does not have a solid basis in science, has the potential to burden our health care system, and may cause irreversible harm to our youth? These same Liberals continually tell us that they are the true scientists, that they understand science, and that they listen to scientists—well, perhaps junk science, but I digress.
The burden to the health care system seems to be one of the aspects of the bill that has not been thought out. Cannabis is typically smoked, and similar to tobacco, it has negative effects on the health of the lungs.
Each day in Canada, 100 Canadians die of a smoking-related illness. Each year, there are more than 230,000 deaths for that same reason. With the legalization and wide availability of cannabis, it is assumed that this number would only increase.
Smoke is smoke. We do not send firefighters into a smoke-filled room without respirators, so why would we encourage another means to harm our lungs? As a health care provider, I cannot support an increased burden to our country's health care system, and I certainly cannot get behind this idea when the demographic it will affect most negatively is our youth. The federal government needs to protect the young people of Canada. I do not feel that the bill goes far enough to ensure that is the case.
Another major issue that I see with this piece of legislation is that of occupational health and safety. In my riding, there are a lot of industries that rely heavily on manual labour from their employees, an example of which is the construction industry. The Construction Labour Relations Association of Saskatchewan wrote a letter to my office, outlining some of its concerns with Bill C-45. I have an excerpt from that letter. It says that the construction and maintenance industry is widely recognized as being a safety-sensitive industry, where substance use and abuse pose significant risks to workers' health and safety, and that their contractors are deeply concerned about the forthcoming legalization of marijuana.
Another industry that this has the potential to affect is the transportation industry. My riding serves as one of the major trucking corridors through the United States and up into Canada. Hundreds of transport trucks traverse my riding daily, going through small communities and often on single-lane highways. These single-lane highways are dangerous, to the degree that a “time to twin” committee has been established with the specific goal of working to get infrastructure funding to have Highways 39 and 6 twinned.
There are already a number of accidents involving 18-wheelers every year in southeast Saskatchewan, which sadly results in an average of three deaths annually. I can only assume that there will be more, unless there are specific provisions in place regarding the use of cannabis while at work.
There needs to be a framework for employers to lawfully continue to manage the workplace risks associated with cannabis use. They need to be able to have an option to test their employees whenever they feel the need, especially if the employer feels as though safety standards have been violated. Who will protect these employers from legal challenges, and who will protect fellow workers from the safety risks caused by intoxicated individuals?
I hope that the Liberals can understand why this is so important in labour-centric industries like construction, agriculture, oil and gas, and more. Both employees and employers deserve to have a clear and standardized set of rules regarding the acceptable use of intoxicants, including cannabis, to ensure that occupational health and safety is the major priority, no matter what.
This also applies to the matter of public safety in general. This is a story I do not tell a lot, but when I was 16 years old, while riding a bicycle, I was the victim of a hit and run collision where a driver who was impaired due to drug and alcohol use hit me and left me for dead on the side of the road. I had brain matter draining out of my ear and was in a coma for two weeks. I nearly died as a result of that. It affected my life dramatically, and still does to this day.
That personal experience is part of the reason why I feel so strongly about the need for policies to be in place regarding drug testing with respect to impaired driving before cannabis is legalized. It is a matter of ensuring public safety, and on this side of the House, we think that public safety should be put above keeping campaign promises. These tests need to be concise, accurate, and defensible. They need to be usable and in place prior to any legislation. Otherwise, we are closing the barn door after the horses have left.
In closing, I believe that Bill C-45 is flawed in many regards and that there needs to be a better understanding of the overarching effects of cannabis before it is made available to the Canadian public. I call on the Liberals to do the right thing, and to stand up for the health and safety of Canadians when it comes to the legalization of cannabis.