PHOTOS: Jonathan Denis, during his tenure as premier Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative Justice Minister. Below: Former Calgary Police Chief and PC candidate Rick Hanson (Photo: CBC), former PC culture minister Lindsay Blackett, and Conservative activist Piotr Pilarski (Photo: Twitter).
A couple of high-profile Progressive Conservative candidates swept away by the NDP sweep in May 2015 appear to have landed on their feet – in the field of legal marijuana.
Two big-name Calgary Tory candidates, a former minister of justice and a former police chief who saw their political careers go up in smoke after they were defeated by then-relatively-unknown New Democrats, have now surfaced as part of a legal-marijuana advocacy and lobbying organization.
They are joined at the “Canadian Cannabis Chamber” by another former Tory minister, who left politics in 2012, and a prominent Alberta Conservative activist.
Former PC justice minister Jonathan Denis, former PC candidate and Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson, former culture minister Lindsay Blackett, and Conservative activist and social media commentator Piotr Pilarski all appear prominently listed as advisors on the CCC’s website.
The Calgary-based CCC describes itself on the site as a “national nonprofit chamber of commerce” that advocates for “legal cannabis business policies at the national, provincial, and local levels of government.” The site’s contact page also indicates the group does business under the name Canadian Cannabis Business Association.
Under a link headed “Our Team,” the website describes Mr. Denis as legal counsel, advisor and lobbyist, Mr. Hanson as public safety advisor, Mr. Blackett as government relations and policy advisor, and Mr. Pilarski as communications advisor. News reports have referred to Mr. Pilarski as president of the group. A short potted biography is provided for each.
Most of the CCC’s other advisors appeared to be U.S. residents, several with connections to the legal-marijuana industry in the State of Colorado, which legalized recreational and medical use of the substance in January 2014.
Public awareness of circumstances of Mr. Denis’s breakup with his wife and a controversy over who was responsible for vandalism to his election signs did not help his re-election chances in the Calgary-Acadia riding in 2015. In the event, Mr. Denis, who served in the cabinets of PC premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford, spent $85,000 on his campaign; he was defeated by New Democrat Brandy Payne, who spent $240. Ms. Payne is now Associate Minister of Heath in Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP Cabinet.
As Calgary Police Chief from 2007 to 2015, a former vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, and former president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, Mr. Hanson was a high-profile candidate for PC premier Jim Prentice in Calgary-Cross. He lost that riding to Ricardo Miranda, then a relatively unknown New Democrat and now the minister of culture in Ms. Notley’s cabinet.
According to Mr. Hanson’s CCC biography, he is now also Senior Vice President of Regulatory & Public Affairs for Merrco Payments Inc., which the Financial Post describes as a start-up company that plans to offer licensed marijuana sellers e-commerce payment technology that complies with the proposed Cannabis Act.
Mr. Blackett, MLA for Calgary-North West until 2012, was made culture and community spirit minister by Mr. Stelmach in 2008. In June 2010, he made news with his controversial remarks about government subsidies to the industry at the Banff World Television Festival, criticizing the quality of film and television produced in Alberta and asking, “Why do I produce so much shit? Why do I fund so much crap?” He did not run in 2012.
Mr. Pilarski, whose first name is often spelled Peter in news stories, is a Conservative activist and social media commentator known in the past for his opposition to unions. He is a former Southern Alberta vice-president of the Merit Contractors Association, a vocal organization of non-union building companies.
Recently, Mr. Pilarski has published Tweets expressing his disappointment at federal Conservative motions to remove homegrown marijuana from the Trudeau Government’s pot-legalization bill and assailing the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees for arguing legal marijuana should only be sold by public employees in government stores.
He was once campaign manager for Sandra Jansen, back when she was running as a PC candidate in Calgary-North West. Nowadays, of course, Ms. Jansen is minister of infrastructure in Premier Notley’s NDP cabinet.