Mayor Pankow addresses the Canadian Senate regarding Bill C-45 respecting Cannabis

Posted on: May 24, 2018

As posted on Facebook page –Shawn Pankow, Mayor of Smiths Falls

“It was an honour today to address the Canadian Senate Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee today regarding Bill C-45 respecting Cannabis and amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and others.

I participated on a panel with Canopy Growth Corporation Chair and CEO Bruce Linton, Allan Rewak, Executive Director of the Cannabis Canada Council and Dr. Terry Lake, former BC Minister of Health and Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility for Hydropothecary.

It was a great opportunity to share with Senators the progress our community has experienced with Canopy Growth Corporation. Here is my presentation (We each had about seven minutes for our opening remarks):

Good Afternoon Honourable Senators, it is truly a privilege to have the opportunity to address you here today. I have been invited to speak on behalf of the 9000 residents of Smiths Falls, a community which has, in a very short period of time, risen to become the vanguard to the impending legalization of cannabis.

Although the burgeoning cannabis industry in Canada has led to new employment opportunities and innovation in hundreds of communities across the country, Smiths Falls stands out as the best example of the incredibly positive impact of a changing landscape.

Smiths Falls is a community on the rise and we are in the early stages of an economic renewal like nothing we have ever experienced before.

It wasn’t always like this.

When I was elected Mayor of Smiths Falls in late 2014, I never imagined I would be addressing the Senate of Canada on legislation that will legalize a natural herb. A plant that had been used legally for medical and recreational purposes for thousands of years, but made illegal in Canada in 1923 under the Opium and Drug Act.

From the limited research I have done, it appears that the criminalization of marijuana consumption was merely an afterthought and was included in the legislation with no recorded debate or reasoning.

We may never know the reasons it was lumped in with heroin, cocaine and other far more dangerous drugs, and while Canada was one of the first countries to criminalize cannabis use, I’m sure elected officials in the 1930s looked back with pride when propaganda out of the U.S. suggested marijuana use would lead to delirium and insanity according to Henry Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Although we will never know what motivated Anslinger to initiate a propaganda campaign of falsehoods and outright lies about marijuana, we do know that it led to a global movement that included cannabis in the “war on drugs” and led to lives ruined, police resources consumed and untold billions of dollars wasted trying to control and eliminate the use of an herb that had been enjoyed harmlessly for centuries.

Looking back, it is appalling to consider today the number of Canadians whose lives were forever changed due to smoking a joint. It is horrifying to know that for decades, tens of thousands of Canadians annually would become criminals due to marijuana possession.

The Town of Smiths Falls stands at the centre of Eastern Ontario, and is the heart of the Rideau Canal – Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Destination. It was the construction of the Rideau Canal in the late 1820s that turned Smiths Falls into a centre for enterprise, as the fast-flowing waters of the Rideau served as a source of power for numerous mills, enabling area farmers to participate in the provincial economy.

It was this developing economy and our central location in Eastern Ontario that led to the town embracing the new technology of the late 1850s, railroads. The town served as a crossroad for multiple railways and more importantly, as a divisional centre for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1887, largely due to the forward-thinking nature of our forefathers, who decided to bonus the CPR $25,000, to ensure Smiths Falls would be a railway hub for generations.

At its peak, the CPR employed over 1500 men. Growth at farm implement manufacturer Frost and Wood, Malleable Castings, its subsidiary and numerous other enterprises formed the foundation of my town’s industrial heritage.

The construction of the Ontario Hospital School, later named the Rideau Regional Centre, eventually led to 1,500 good paying, provincial government jobs serving the 2500 residents of this facility. Numerous other industries came and went but it seemed every time one enterprise was closing its door, another one was opening. Diesel engines changed railway operations in the late 1950s, leading to the loss of hundreds of jobs, around the same time Frost and Wood shut down its operation leading to the loss of hundreds more.

However, it wasn’t long until a large American candy maker – Hershey’s – found its way to Smiths Falls and started operations in 1963. Over time, Hershey Canada expanded its operations and its number of employees from 184 people in 1970 to 750 people by 1990. Smiths Falls embraced its role as the Chocolate Capital of Ontario and welcomed tens of thousands of visitors annually for tours of the facility, including a stop at the Chocolate Shoppe.

These and other industries led to a period of strong economic growth and a high availability of good-paying industrial jobs. 
However, this all changed in February, 2007 when Hershey’s, quite unexpectedly, announced it was closing its Smiths Falls plant. This announcement came on the heals of the province’s plans to shutter the Rideau Regional Centre as it integrated its residents into community-based group homes. In a very short span of time, these losses, combined with lay-offs following the closure of Stanley Tools, Shorewood Packaging, GH Metals and more resulted in close to 2000 lost jobs. In many cases, it left both wage earners in a family without employment. It led to the downturn of our local economy as the ripple affect of lost wages reverberated through our town. Suddenly, Smiths Falls was national news; for all the wrong reasons!

The people of Smiths Falls have long been known as a tough, resilient group who continue pick themselves up every time they get knocked down. However, the continued effort of people finding challenges at every turn began to take its toll. People were forced to sell assets, liquidate retirement savings, sell their homes and change their lifestyle considerably. People who were once confident and hopeful about the future, became immersed in discouragement and uncertainty.

It was the experience I saw through the lives of my clients in my professional life as a financial planner, that motivated me to run for town council in 2010. By 2014, when the next municipal election came around, little had changed, except for this small company planning to grow medical cannabis in the former Hershey plant.

Yes, in the fall of 2013, a group of entrepreneurs had a dream to get a license from Health Canada to grow medical cannabis in the former chocolate factory. Early projections suggested that if successful, they would eventually hire 100 people and occupy one third of the 450,000 square foot building. Our council was completely supportive.

Smiths Falls had a glimmer of hope. Just imagine what could happen if some day, marijuana could be legalized for recreational use.

Flash forward four years and Smiths Falls is experiencing an unprecedented economic renewal. A town once known for nothing but bad news, was now making headlines across the country for embracing a new and innovative industry. Canopy Growth Corporation had taken root in our community and a future once clouded in absolute uncertainty, saw a bright shining star lighting our way to a far more prosperous future.

The impact to date has been very impressive. Between 2017-2018, Canopy will have invested $150 million in its Smiths Falls campus. This number is expected to grow by an additional $70 million before the end of 2019. Building permit applications – total construction volume and permit fees – in Smiths Falls in 2017, were far greater than the sum of the previous four years combined. The level of construction thus far in 2018, is now three times greater than the total experienced in 2017 and is approaching $100M. Although much of this is attributed to the expansion and renovation of the Canopy campus now encompassing additional properties on Hershey Drive, construction volumes and new home builds are on the rise across our town.

We are now facing a housing shortage as new Canopy employees move to our community and settle permanently. We are experiencing a very hot housing market as these employees, local residents now working at Tweed and others are competing for homes, driving up prices and initiating bidding wars. In the words of a local realtor with four decades of experience in our community “We have never seen it like this”.

With over 500 people now working out of the Smiths Falls campus and an expectation to more than double this number in the near future, the impact of tens of millions of dollars in payroll is multiplying through our town supporting restaurants, retail stores, car dealers, building trades, service industries and more. While I suspect the cannabis trade has been active in our community for generations, I don’t think its underground economy has had anywhere near the same impact, and I hope the legislation eventually passed by our government commits to regulated, licensed producers and squeezes out any trace of black market activity.

While we are fully supportive of Canopy Growth Corporation and its vision of an expanded product line producing edibles, beverages, vape pens, oils, lotions and additional products only limited by ingenuity and innovation, I do encourage Senators to challenge the potential for commercial outdoor cultivation of cannabis. The Government of Canada unintentionally helped create the illicit trade of cannabis with the Opium and Drug Act of 1927, and I am concerned permitting commercial outdoor cultivation by regulation will increase the possibility of continued domination by the illicit market and will discourage continued investment by companies like Canopy Growth Corp.

Canopy is quickly rebuilding the industrial tax base we relied on heavily for most of the town’s history. We have weathered the tsunami of economic upheaval and have laid a solid foundation for our future generations. Canopy has quickly endeared itself to all 9000 of our residents and through its philanthropy, has already provided significant levels of support to our Station Theatre, Food Bank and local United Way. Its 4/20 commitment this year will see it donate $5 million annually for the next four years to the communities in which it operates. Smiths Falls will benefit.

Smiths Falls Town Council set seven primary strategic priorities we wanted to accomplish during this term from 2014-2018 and established a vision for 2025. Paramount to our objectives was growth in our population, a diverse economy with a strong business sector, attracting new manufacturers and a fully developed industrial park. At the time, these seemed like lofty goals to accomplish in a decade.

Thanks to Canopy Growth Corporation, it looks like we are well on our way to checking these items off the list much, much sooner.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our story with you today.”

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