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

VIDEO: Young QMS cast shines in ‘Giants in the Sky’ musical

Kids find that sometimes being brave is good, but you still need supportive friends

Andrea Rondeau column: The internet has changed how we cover breaking news

If there’s ever anything you think we’ve missed, please feel free to contact us and let us know.

Sarah Simpson column: My history with bees

My dad is allergic to bees.

Strong showing for host school at Shawnigan Regatta

Shawnigan second in overall aggregate, tops U17 girls standings

T.W. Paterson column: Downtown ‘silo’ has become a Duncan landmark

“Imagine the Leaning Tower of Duncan! It would be the Ninth Wonder of the world

Trans Mountain pipeline: How we got here

A look at the Kinder Morgan expansion, decades in the making

Giant beer tanks arrive in new B.C. home city

Molson Coors tanks finish river journey and move to overland trip in Chilliwack

VIDEO: Pipeline supporters rally across B.C.

Five simultaneous events organized by month-old Suits and Boots lobby group

VIDEO: B.C. woman praises burn fund after boat explosion in 1978

White Rock woman was 16 years old when she was left with second- and third-degree burns

B.C.’s Ryan Craig, Vegas Golden Knights chase history

Local product behind bench for expansion team’s incredible championship run

CP rail workers give strike notice

Employees could walk out as early as Tuesday at 7 p.m. PT

RCMP investigating after gunshots fired in Courtenay

Comox Valley RCMP officers are investigating after gunshots rang out in Courtenay… Continue reading

Vancouver Island wife brings husband back to life with CPR, thanks to 911 dispatcher

‘The dispatcher literally taught me CPR over the phone’

Most Read