An employee of the Conservatives’ lead Senate critic on marijuana legalization had been lobbying independent senators for several weeks before he was fired last week for urging them to postpone a final vote on the matter. Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Claude Carignan speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, October 3, 2016.Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Tory staffer lobbied senators to delay legal-pot bill weeks before being fired

An employee of the Conservatives’ lead Senate critic on marijuana legalization had been lobbying independent senators for several weeks before he was fired

An employee of the Conservatives’ lead Senate critic on marijuana legalization had been lobbying independent senators for several weeks before he was fired last week for urging them to postpone a final vote on the matter.

Independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar says Malcolm Armstrong approached her three different times after committee meetings to discuss his concerns about Bill C-45. And she wasn’t the only independent senator he spoke to.

“He’s been a constant (presence), I think, at the social affairs committee,” Omidvar said in an interview. “It wasn’t just me. He made it a point to speak to as many senators as he could.”

The first time Armstrong approached her was in mid-April following a meeting of the Senate’s social affairs committee, which is studying the cannabis legalization bill. Omidvar said Armstrong didn’t identify himself as a staffer of Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan, who is leading the Tory charge against the bill in the upper house, and she told him she didn’t have time that day to talk to him.

At the next committee meeting, she said he handed her a document outlining his concerns about the bill, which again didn’t identify him as a Tory senator’s staffer. She noticed that he was wearing a Senate lanyard with his ID badge, so she asked him who he worked for.

“He said, ‘Oh, I’m in a contract but I’m an independent researcher.’ And I said, ‘So, who do you work for?’” Omidvar said.

“And he hemmed and hawed and wasn’t quite forthcoming. And by this time, my parliamentary affairs adviser had already sort of alerted me and so I insisted, ‘Who do you work for?’ and he then said to me he worked for Sen. Carignan.”

Omidvar said Armstrong approached her again after another committee meeting to say “he was sorry if he had created an impression in my mind that he was anything but a Senate staffer but he was working as an independent, that his point of view was his own.”

Carignan fired Armstrong last week after learning he’d circulated a paper among independent senators urging them to postpone a final vote on the cannabis bill until they hear back from a special committee that he suggested should be set up to study aspects of legalization that have not yet been adequately considered.

Conservative Senate leader Larry Smith’s office disavowed the paper — which was designed to look like an official Senate document and which did not identify Armstrong as a Carignan staffer — and said Tory senators continue to abide by an agreement struck among all Senate factions to hold a final vote on C-45 by June 7.

That timetable is intended to allow the Trudeau government to deliver on its commitment to have recreational cannabis available for retail sales by late summer — a deadline that would have been impossible to meet had senators adopted Armstrong’s proposal.

The paper and the fact that the author did not identify his connection with Carignan sparked suspicion that the Tories were surreptitiously trying to persuade independent senators to delay passage of the bill, without taking the heat themselves for reneging on the June 7 agreement.

However, Armstrong, who has a doctorate in philosophy from India, insisted in an interview that he’s apolitical and was not acting at the behest of Carignan or the Conservative Senate leadership. Rather, he said he’s been researching the issue of cannabis legalization for several years and felt he had something to contribute.

Related: Legal marijuana on track for July but getting pot into stores could take longer

He said he first offered his research services to independent Sen. Tony Dean, the sponsor of C-45 in the Senate, who “politely declined.” He then met with Carignan, who hired him on a short-term contract, starting in March.

“I discovered that I was more knowledgeable of cannabis than any senator and any staff … I think he recognized that, that’s why he wanted me to come in,” Armstrong said.

He acknowledged that the paper advocating postponement of the final vote was outside his mandate. But he said he wanted to float a proposal he felt would be a “win-win for everybody” — allowing more time to study the issue without defeating the bill outright.

As for the design of his paper and the use of the Senate logo, Armstrong said he was pressed for time and didn’t think it was a big deal.

“In hindsight, I would not have done that,” he said.

He said the paper was just a draft, never intended to be made public, and circulated last week to a handful of mostly Indigenous senators, prompted by Armstrong’s belief that Indigenous Peoples have been something of an “after-thought” in the legalization debate. Due to a delay translating the paper into French, he said he had not shown it to Carignan before the paper was leaked to the media.

“I would not have been let go if someone hadn’t leaked it,” Armstrong said. ”That I know because I wasn’t doing anything secretly, I wasn’t doing anything in bad faith.”

However, Omidvar called Armstrong’s conduct ”a serious breach of accountability, supervision and oversight.” She believes the Senate’s internal economy committee should investigate the matter.

When she finally learned his identity, Omidvar said she told Armstrong: “When you speak to a senator and you work for a senator, you must identify yourself. That is common practice here.”

“I was actually quite angry,” she added. “By this time, everybody knew what was happening.”

Omidvar said she doesn’t know if Conservative senators were aware of Armstrong’s lobbying efforts, but said independent senators certainly were.

Related: Farnworth says five years too long for feds to deal with organized crime in medical pot

Related: Marijuana impairment testing remains hazy: B.C.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Jeep crashes into vehicle and drops down embankment

An accident occurred on Greenwood Drive

Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce to offer “speed-dating” style candidate forums

Participants will have 5 minutes to chat with each participating candidate

Injured mountain biker rescued from trail

A helicopter was needed to safely extricate a injured mountain biker from Blind Mice trails

Penticton neighbourhood surprised by emergency response team activity

RCMP officers were conducting emergency response training

Bird migration open house draws more than 100 people

Rare chance to observe conservation work

VIDEO: Rare close encounter with whale pod spotted off B.C. waters

Pod of southern resident orca whales breach within arms length of whale watchers

Who’s running in Penticton’s election?

Candidates for the Penticton municipal and school board election

Rattie scores 3 as Oilers blank Canucks 6-0

Vancouver slips to 1-5 in exhibition play

Veterans Affairs ordered to take second look before supporting vets’ relatives

Liberal government ordered officials to adopt a more critical eye

Dead B.C. motorcyclist was member of group that raced down mountain road

Some group members record their rides on Strathcona Parkway and post times to page

Indigenous athletes in spotlight at BC Sports Hall of Fame

New gallery to feature Carey Price, Kaila Mussel and Richard Peter

Okanagan College student population climbs

Enrolment up nearly 14 per cent

B.C. couple who went missing on flight from Edmonton named by family

Family released a statement Wednesday saying they’re still intent on finding the two-seater plane

Coldstream supports Okanagan College Campus residence project

Project would see a 100-bed residence on the Vernon campus in Coldstream

Most Read