Bill Blair has officially been named the minister responsible for administering the Cannabis Act, according to a privy council order dated Nov. 21.
Blair, a former Toronto police chief, became Canada’s first-ever minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction in July, but he played a key role in cannabis legalization well before that.
In his previous role as parliamentary secretary to the ministers of Health and Justice, Blair was frequently trotted out as a top spokesperson for the government’s marijuana-legalization policy.
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor was previously the minister responsible for the law that legalized non-medical cannabis in Canada on Oct. 17.
Blair’s new responsibility was foreshadowed by his August ministerial mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which assigned him to “lead the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis” with help from the ministers of Health, Justice and Public Safety.
“Your key priorities are public safety, responsible usage and keeping cannabis away from children,” instructed the letter.
The principle of ministerial responsibility is enshrined in Canada’s constitutional structure, explains Philippe Lagasse, an associate professor of international affairs at Carleton University who researches the Westminster parliamentary system.
“When we’re saying that a minister is responsible, it means that in law and in our constitutional system, they are the ones who have the authority to exercise executive power in regards to that particular file,” says Lagasse.
The move to transfer responsibility for the Cannabis Act to the minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction means Blair and his ministry now have the authority to exercise a variety of powers set out in the new law. Those executive powers include the power to order cannabis producers and retailers to take certain steps to “address (issues) of public health or public safety” and the power to order cannabis recalls of “any cannabis or class of cannabis” to protect public health and safety.
The minister responsible for the Cannabis Act also has the power to compel licensed cannabis companies and retailers to provide information in order to address public health or public safety issues, or in order to determine whether a given action violated the law.
“There’s a lot of law enforcement issues surrounding (cannabis legalization),” Lagasse says.
“That may be a type of minister; therefore, you’d want more in that type of camp, as opposed to the health minister, which is a very different type of role… I think it’s fair to say that in this case, the government is signalling that the public safety components of the act predominate in terms of which minister they think should be involved.”
But just like Spider-Man, Blair’s great power comes with great responsibility. In other words, he is now accountable to Parliament for the Cannabis Act, and must answer parliamentary questions about anything that goes wrong. However, the doctrine of ministerial responsibility means ultimate responsibility for the Cannabis Act rests with Trudeau, says Lagasse.
Blair’s new ministerial responsibilities suggest the Liberals have been satisfied by his performance on the cannabis file so far, says Lagasse.
“The government clearly chose to have him as the face of that policy, and is therefore continuing with that approach,” he says.
In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman for Blair described his new role as taking the lead on “the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis across Canada.”
“With support from the ministers of Health, Justice and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, our government seeks to better protect the health and safety of Canadians, keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, and keep profits from criminals and organized crime,” wrote the spokeswoman.