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GPA Cannabis: What to expect in the coming months

Elaine Larsen
Senior Consultant, Regulated Health Industries

Anticipate a narrowing window for engagement with Health Canada as the federal election looms closer.

Last week, the House of Commons adjourned for the summer, which means that Members of Parliament are back in their ridings and the unofficial election campaign is in full swing. What follows is an overview of what you can expect in your engagements with Health Canada and politically in the coming months. This pre-election period provides a narrowing window of opportunity to engage with Health Canada on policy development, and a wide window of opportunity to intensify your relationships with local political candidates who seek to represent your interests in Ottawa.

While the Minister is focusing on wrapping up any key initiatives which will bring electoral support, the summer months lend an opportunity to engage with the Department of Health on cannabis health products; and to clarify aspects of the Cannabis Act and the Cannabis Regulations. The Department launched consultations last week on cannabis health products available without a prescription and will provide information sessions to stakeholders in the coming days. Stakeholder feedback is welcome until early September, and any next steps will be outlined post-election. If you have concerns about cannabis edibles, topicals and extracts regulations, Health Canada will be focused on providing information, and new policy is very unlikely. More broadly, expect the Department to use this period to issue guidance documents to stakeholders on various aspects of the cannabis framework.

Health Canada’s communication will become significantly limited during the election campaign period, expected in September. During this time, Government will assume a ‘caretaker role’. The Minister will be advised to exercise restraint in her actions and any necessary external communications will be led by the Department and not the Minister. Ms. Petitpas-Taylor will be focused on counting votes in her riding, while Pam Damoff’s role as Parliamentary Secretary ceases. Many political staff will take leave without pay or resign their position to assist with the campaign. The Department should confine itself to matters that are routine, non-controversial, urgent and in the public interest; easily reversible by another government, or in agreement with the opposition. During the election period, the Department generally adopts a ‘wait and see”’ approach to stakeholder relations; ensuring departmental activities are carried out in a non-partisan, low-profile manner. While the Department focuses on finalizing its transition material for an incoming Minister, external communications will be limited in the race towards Election Day, expected on or before October 21, 2019.

While the Department winds down, local political activity gears up and presents an excellent opportunity to intensify your relationships with your future Member of Parliament. All candidates will be focused on shoring up electoral support with constituents -take a proactive approach to establish a relationship with your future representative in Ottawa. This person will be ready to advocate for your federal interests should the need arise in the future. Keep track of local and party messaging on cannabis, ask for a meeting with viable candidates, and provide information on the sector and your organization’s local footprint. An effective way to do this is to plan to connect at a community event.

Post-election, the next point of engagement is once a new session of Parliament opens and the Speech from the Throne is read (likely in November). If you have active interests, the priority will be to introduce your organization to political staff and the Department in order to position yourselves as  credible stakeholders. If there is a change in government, proactive engagement is doubly important. The regulatory framework developed thus far can be revised. Reverse decisions by the new governments in Ontario and Quebec on the provinces’ cannabis strategies illustrate this point.

Knowing when to engage with Health Canada, and with the right message, will assist your organization in flagging threats and opportunities, and to avoid surprises which may affect your bottom line. If you would you like more information on how to action this strategy, contact the GPA Cannabis Team and we’ll be glad to show you how.


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