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Trudeau, Scheer will go silent on cannabis ahead of election: Bruce Linton

TORONTO, ON - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, shakes hands with the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Andrew Scheer. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Bruce Linton says he met with a “fellow named Andrew” and “some people who report directly to a guy named Justin” in Ottawa over the summer.

The encounters left the former co-chief executive of pot giant Canopy Growth Corp. (WEED.TO)(CGC) convinced that political posturing will overshadow the success story of Canada’s cannabis industry in the run-up to the federal election.

“There are enough people who want to find a reason to make a joke about Trudeau. Make him look light, not serious,” Linton told Yahoo Finance Canada on the sidelines of the Grow Up Conference and Expo in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Hinting at major headwind issues for the federal Liberals, such as the SNC-Lavalin affair, he said, “I don’t think the Liberals want to look light and fun.”

For Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, touting the success of Canada’s cannabis sector would amount to an admission that the party was on the wrong side of a wedge issue in an election Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won, Linton said.

Recall former prime minister Stephen Harper’s remarks in a 2015 debate: “Tobacco is a product that does a lot of damage. Marijuana is infinitely worse and it's something that we do not want to encourage.”

“The Tories lost the last election in part because they tried to tell a majority of Canadian adults they are wrong,” Linton said of the cannabis legalization issue. “[Now], the Conservatives don’t want to touch it.”

He did not specify if he expects candidates from other parties to raise the economic impact of cannabis as a talking point as Canadians prepare to cast their ballots on Oct. 21.

Linton, arguably the best-known figure in the global cannabis industry, was ousted from his leadership role at Canopy Growth in July. With a track record for innovative deal-making, he is largely credited with elevating investor interest in the burgeoning cannabis sector, not to mention reviving the economic prospects of the small Ontario town of Smiths Falls, where Canopy Growth is based.

Canada’s publicly-listed cannabis producers became the focal point of an investor frenzy in the run-up to legalization last fall, drawing billions of foreign dollars into Canadian-headquartered companies.

Canada’s legal cannabis industry output is near $8 billion, based on seasonally adjusted figures and 2012 constant prices, according to June figures from Statistics Canada. Meanwhile, Canadian household cannabis consumption spending came in at $5.44 billion in the second quarter of the year.

Last month, StatsCan’s profile of federally-licensed cannabis producers found 9,200 people are currently working in the sector, up from 2,630 in the fiscal 2018 year, and 1,438 in fiscal 2017. Meanwhile, 175 companies make up the industry, up from 83 a year earlier and 37 in 2017, StatsCan said.

“This sector has had more foreign direct investment in Canada than every person trying to drill a hole for oil, dig a hole for minerals or cut a tree down to try to make it into something,” Linton said.

“If you look at the last three, five years, more money has come to Canada through this sector than all of those things combined.”

Cam Battley, chief corporate officer at Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis Inc. (ACB.TO)(ACB), said some hesitation is understandable when it comes to politicians thumping their chests about the economic benefits of cannabis given lingering stigma.

That said, he’s believes the large number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs being created by his company and its peers will become tough for politicians to ignore as the industry matures.

“We're talking about billions of dollars of investment, tens of thousands of new jobs created, and a wide array of economic spin-off benefits. It's not just about cannabis. It's about all the additional ancillary industries that benefit, and innovation driven from Canada, including clinical research,” he told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“We will develop a new Canadian consensus about how important this industry is to the economy, and what a positive contribution it's making.”

Yahoo Finance Canada