Why Harper’s foes need to get off the pot - Macleans.ca

Why Harper’s foes need to get off the pot


Sean Kilpatrick / CP

Hey, did you hear Justin Trudeau smoked marijuana? I think it was in the news somewhere. The Liberal leader was asked whether he had taken a puff, and he answered at some length, at one point admitting that he had gotten high at a dinner party three years ago, after his election as a member of Parliament. After that, the press gallery went into one of our periodic frenzies, asking every adult who slowed down long enough to scrum whether they had ever used marijuana. Turns out many have. (But not Stephen Harper!)

While we were busy sniffing out used roaches in Centre Block restrooms, a debate over the propriety of smoking pot ensued. Peter MacKay, newly ensconced as justice minister, said Trudeau demonstrated “a profound lack of judgment” and set a “poor example for all Canadians, particularly young ones.”

There’s something to that. Prolonged marijuana abuse has been linked to memory loss, although of course it’s always hard to prove a direct causal link. For instance, in 2003 MacKay signed a pledge not to merge the Progressive Conservative Party with the Canadian Alliance. He forgot the promise almost immediately. But it would be unfair to blame pot.

Soon enough it became easy to find Liberals who would patiently explain, off the record, that Trudeau’s pot confession was part of a strategy to “brand” the Liberal as a “new kind” of “straight-talking” leader who would “not beat around the bush” but would instead “tell it like it is” because he’s “auditioning for a remake of The Mod Squad, which is the only possible explanation for this sudden outburst of 40-year-old slang.” Okay, I made the last part up. It was equally easy to find other Liberals who would explain that, by declining to hotbox the Langevin Block, Harper was coming across as a boring fuddy-duddy who did not understand the way things work nowadays.

Liberals, you see, are quite sure every Canadian is a Liberal whose vote was stolen by Conservative skullduggery in the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2011. Canadians, in this view, think marijuana use is harmless fun, and they will blame politicians who want to harsh the national buzz. So a Liberal friend of mine was genuinely surprised when she plunked herself down behind the Liberal party table at a local community event and got her ear bent by voters, many of them from immigrant communities, asking why Trudeau was soft on drugs.

The realization that many Canadians believe illegal drugs should stay illegal is one surprise awaiting the Liberals. Another is that a lot more Canadians have complex, conflicting or frankly hypocritical views on drug policy— but that it’s not drug policy that will determine their next vote. Millions will vote based on their best guess about which party will best ensure a strong economy whose bounties improve their own life and their family’s. And Justin Trudeau just spent a month talking about something else.

This is something else that Liberals cannot understand: the notion that most Canadians are no longer properly grateful for the work Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin did to clean up deficits in the 1990s. In fact, a growing number of Canadians, even the ones who don’t smoke a lot of pot, have dim memories of the 1990s or none at all.

This helps explain a Harris-Decima poll from the end of August that inquired about respondents’ opinions of the national political parties. Trudeau’s net favourable impression is way higher than Harper’s and a fair bit higher than NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s. Respondents were likelier to believe Trudeau “shares your values.” He’s having a strong year in the polls. But Harper still has a slight edge over both Trudeau and Mulcair on “judgment,” and on “economic management” it was a blowout: 39 per cent prefer Harper to only 20 per cent for Trudeau and 15 per cent for Mulcair.

Trudeau hasn’t the faintest intention of campaigning in the 2015 election with pot legalization as his main plank. But changing deep-seated attitudes toward a party takes time. And because the Liberals took two years to pick a leader after the 2011 elections, Trudeau only has three summers to define himself before facing voters, and he pretty much just blew one.

For much the same reason, I’m not sure Tom Mulcair picked the right issue when he used part of his summer to travel coast-to-coast campaigning for Senate abolition. For reasons explained elsewhere in this issue, Canadians are angry at the Senate right now. That’s not the same as believing any party has the ability, once in power, to do much about it. His Senate tour illustrates a little-noticed difference between Mulcair and his predecessor Jack Layton. Layton came from Toronto city politics. He hadn’t the faintest interest in constitutional tinkering. The NDP stood for abolishing the Senate, as it always had, and Layton never talked about it. Mulcair comes from Quebec provincial politics, where a generation grew up believing that if you have no constitutional scheme to peddle you cannot be serious.

Layton’s prosaic fascination with voters’ kitchen-table preoccupations helped him supplant the Liberals as the first choice for voters eager to block the Conservatives. Next time around that vote will be up for grabs again. Mulcair and Trudeau both plan to try to take Harper’s economic credibility away from him. They haven’t gotten around to it yet, but they believe they have time. Harper’s opponents always believe they have plenty of time.

On the web: For more Paul Wells, visit his blog at macleans.ca/inklesswells


Why Harper’s foes need to get off the pot

  1. Peter McKay is a great one to give advice, the most disliked minister next to Baird,what is wrong with our country that all we ever get as politicians who have no oomph although Justin is about the only one who makes sense in this generational gap we have in this country.Time for a change.Good Luck Justin !!!

  2. Legalize the ganja!

  3. So I guess it’s still ok for Ford to smoke lots of pot!

    • I have NO problem with Rob Ford smoking lot’s of pot but CRACK is a whole other drug. A crack head’s only thoughts are for the next hit and to hell with anything or anybody else.

  4. Is Paul Wells speaking on behalf of the PMO? Is he now one of the PMO 1500?

  5. I wonder if there’s a way to track what questions media ask of leaders over periods of time. That might go a long way to perhaps explain why Trudeau was talking about pot so much this summer. That, and the fact that there’s been no prime minister around for what seems like months to ask anything of at all.

    Who knows what may come of all this pot talk? Maybe Trudeau will make a connection to Canadians that we can boost our economy quite nicely if we legalized and became a chilled out tourist destination — one big pot club from coast to coast to freakin’ coast.

    Add to that the national anthem talk: what if we adapt Maple Leaf Forever to Mellow Leaf Forever?

    • Part of the reason was no doubt a media hack. Interns in the newsrooms, kids out of school. Pot stories abound. Pot stories + Trudeau? Coverage. They call that ‘earned media.’ Has the bonus of making the NDP look like liars (Layton mentioned pot in a cafe, not watered down decrim like Mulcair backtracked to those union brothers running the prison need jobs!) and reinforces Harper’s stick-up-his-ass frame.

      Add in MacKay the liar’s strident law and order message, and that woman in Steinbach who seemed more concerned about her daughter toking than probably babysitting for Vic Toews, and you get a few more libertarian and Red Tories who also think this is a dumbass policy, but are still afraid to speak up since they still think people will look down on them to come forward.

      Consider the source. Who is complaining? Sun News, for ideological reasons, and the few abstinence dinosaurs who write columns for linkbait. As I suspect Wells knows too.

  6. I’ll never get the 5min I spent reading this trash back. Get a life Paul Wells

  7. As I collect signatures for the Sensible BC decriminalization initiative I find heavy support for marijuana. More than 6 out of 10. I meet the naysayers and haters too but they are clearly in the minority like the author of this prohibitionist diatribe.

  8. yay for weed

  9. “The realization that many Canadians believe illegal drugs should stay illegal is one surprise awaiting the Liberals.”

    A lot of people want the death penalty back, and abortion outlawed too. Some, oddly, both.

    Standing up to a century of bigotry, racism, and corruption is what Liberals go. I hope these forums are archived, just to see some of the visceral, misguided idiocy that kept The War On Minorities Who Use Some Drugs going for so long.

  10. What the Conservatives and Wells may be missing is that members of the base in their 50’s and 60’s may have concerns about will happen to their children and grandchildren as the war on drugs escalates. First there is the mandatory minimum sentences provisions for larger quantities of marijuana (but not huge amounts) and the threat of a criminal record as well.
    As far as teens are concerned, Trudeau appears to be saying marijuana will be LESS available to youngsters and more controlled under legalization than it is now under wide open distribution by criminal gangs and high school dealers.
    Not a “given” that Trudeau has blundered here.

  11. Sniffing out roaches…lol….clearly out of your league Wells….nerd then nerd now

  12. Yes… Trudeau certainly performed horribly if you ignore the fact that both he and his party have maintained their position in the polls the entire summer, and somehow believe that anecdotal unhappiness with his pot policy is more relevant than polling which shows it as popular with most Canadians.

    What a ridiculous piece of sophistry this article is.

  13. This cannabis issue is ridiculous. It is a plant. It has grown naturally for a very long time. It is not the same as garbage like cocaine, heroin etc. It has medicinal, industrial and nutritional value. Anyone who believes that marijuana is a menace to society is dead wrong and there is no arguing it. I dare you to attempt to argue it. If it weren’t for corporate greed and general austerity imposed by the financial elite in this world, we could be making clean energy from hemp oil and using it to build amazing things. And we could all grow it and turn it into a massive sustainable industry while also cutting down on CO2. In all seriousness, cannabis use, whether it be to get high or to create wonders, should be a right to all of humanity. LOL just kidding, we’ll keep bombing third world countries to take control of their oil.

    • and by the “we” at the end i refer to our ties to the US, which should be severed as much as possible. Although a dual citizen wrote a book recently (“Merger of the Century”) proposing we join together…….. yikes.