Reopening the pot debate: Politics on TV, Nov. 8 edition

Talking about legalizing marijuana, China's changing leadership, and Peter Penashue's performance

Message of the day

“The American votes on marijuana legalization have reopened the debate.”

Questions not answered

  • Will China’s new leadership foster a mood of cooperation or antagonism?

Legalizing marijuana:

Power & Politics led off by asking International Co-operation Minister and former police chief Julian Fantino about the votes in two American states to legalize marijuana, while the Canadian government toughens its laws. Fantino said they are always concerned about contraband coming across the border, and the harmfulness of drugs, which also fund organized crime. Fantino reiterated that the government is not in favour of legalizing or decriminalizing, but insisted that people don’t go to jail for small amounts. He did say that they are watching what is going on, but believe the tough approach is working.

Evan Solomon then spoke to opposition MPs Françoise Boivin and Wayne Easter – a former Solicitor General. Boivin said that this vote reopens the debate on marijuana, because the last serious discussion was 40 years ago. Boivin said the NDP position is to decriminalize small quantities, but not legalization at this time. Easter was reminded of the discussions on both sides when a bill to decriminalize small amounts was put forward in 2003 (but was never brought to a vote). He noted that it remains to be seen how state law will clash with federal law in the US, but that it broadens the discussion, and that the public is ahead of the politicians. Easter said the Liberal party position is for legalization, but they need to flesh out the details, especially with concerns of potency (which is disputed).

Power Play spoke to Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu, who is also waiting to see how Washington state law will mesh with federal law. Chu says that growing small amounts or possession are not a police priority, and that they will rarely lay charges. He says that while there has been discussion among police chiefs about doing away with possession laws, it’s not a priority for them.

Don Martin then spoke to Former BC Attorney General Geoff Plant, who is working with the group Stop the Violence, advocating against criminalizing marijuana. Plant said it used to be the case where Canadians didn’t want to get to far ahead of the Americans on decriminalizing or legalization, but the reverse now seems to be happening. He said that 75 per cent of British Columbians favour legalizing and taxing pot, which means that the issue is mainstream and they need federal politicians to pay attention. Plant says that if the Washington state legalization goes ahead, they could see British Columbians crossing the border to consume, as they used to when bars were closed on Sundays in BC.

Racially charged military skit:

Power & Politics heard from CBC’s Laurie Graham about a leaked video from a mess dinner at CFB Greenwood in January 2010, which shows a soldier in brownface doing a humorous skit as Osama bin Laden’s brother. The military had destroyed most of the copies, but is now investigating.

The issue went to P&P’s Power Panel, where Tom Flanagan said it was funny and that everybody needs to lighten up, as soldiers were expressing fear and rage through humour. Liza Frulla thought the humour was in bad taste, but thought the authorities handled it well and that everyone should move on. Robin MacLachlan felt that videos like these might put our soldiers at risk abroad and the message needs to be sent that this can’t be tolerated. Greg Weston said it was hard to say if this would offend Afghan allies, but authorities handled it well.

Change in China’s leadership:

China determining its leadership change, and Xi Jinping the likely new President, Solomon had an MP panel of Rick Dykstra and Wayne Easter to discuss the change. (No NDP MP was put forward to speak on it).  Dykstra noted the various trips the government has made to China, where they have pushed human rights and have seen the potential business opportunities that they are making inroads toward. Easter noted the concerns he heard while in Japan last week, and said that Canada has an advantage with China because of the legacy of Norman Bethune and the way the Canadian Wheat Board helped them out. Easter said we will likely see a cooperative mood from the new leadership, but that China will always look out for itself first.

Harper’s trip to India:

Power Play heard from CTV’s Roger Smith to get an update on the prime minister’s trip, where Smith spoke about Harper’s phone call to President Obama to congratulate him on his victory, and to impress upon him the need to deal with the “fiscal cliff.” Harper told reporters that he’d push the Keystone XL pipeline, but that he won’t deal with marijuana legalization.

Liberal Leadership:

Martin heard from Liberal leadership candidate David Bertschi, who announced his candidacy yesterday. Bertschi said that he’s been in the business world for 28 years, a former Crown prosecutor, and an active member of the party but that he’s not an insider. Bertschi says that he brings business experience, maturity and life experience to the table, and knows how to grow the party from the grassroots. He says that he wouldn’t allow the Conservatives to frame him because he knows how to counter-punch in a “mature and experienced” way.

Martin then spoke with Alice Funke of Pundit’s Guide about the leadership race. Funke said that the regions are important in the race because they are equals to the major centres in terms of weight, and that there has been a quiet campaign to sign up the best organizers in the country. Funke believes that Garneau hasn’t announced his candidacy yet because of the saturation of coverage focused on Trudeau, and that it will be a better time for him to announce when there is a lull in the news cycle.

Peter Penashue’s performance:

Power Play’s MP panel of Elizabeth May, Michelle Rempel, and Dan Harris looked at the questions being raised about Peter Penashue’s performance as minister, leaving aside the questions around his campaign. May said that she is conflicted because she liked Penashue when he opposed NATO low flights over Innu territory, and said she feels like he’s a good person in a bad spot. Harris said his party is concerned about Penashue’s competency on his Intergovernmental Affairs file. Rempel said that Penashue has worked hard, and that there are other ways of communicating to provinces than just flying out to them.

P&P’s Power Panel tackled the issue, where Weston said that Penashue should be taking responsibility for his campaign overspending, and that he really has no job to do because Harper handles intergovernmental affairs in this government. MacLachlan wondered why Penashue was being allowed to use his ministerial budget to basically campaign. Flanagan stood by his previous comments that Penashue should step down while his campaign is investigated, but felt these new questions were just a pile-on. Frulla noted that Penashue’s ministerial portfolio is a regional nomination – there only to ensure his province has a cabinet seat.

Radio attack ads:

After Power & Politics gave the Conservatives a bit of earned media by playing their “carbon tax” radio ad, the Power Panel weighed in. Weston said that one should never let the facts get in the way of a good attack ad, and that the NDP and the Conservatives were on the same page in 2008. MacLachlan called the ad a flat-out lie and that the cardinal rule of attack ads is that there should be a bit of truth. Flanagan typified the NDP cap-and-trade plan as a revenue-raising scheme, so the ad has merit, and noted that other cap-and-trade systems don’t have to raise revenues. Frulla said the strategy was to repeat a lie often enough for it to become truth, and to define Mulcair as being “too expensive.”

Fiscal cliff:

Solomon had an On the Money panel with CAW economist Jim Stanford and Carleton University professor Ian Lee about the danger of the American “fiscal cliff” of tax cuts ending and spending cuts kicking in on a legislated date. Lee said it is a serious matter that could put both of our economies into recession, but felt that cooler heads will likely prevail, as House Speaker John Boehner’s comments have sounded conciliatory. Lee said the Republicans will have to agree to tax reform, and that the Democrats will need to deal with entitlement reform, while Canada’s “plan B” is more trade diversification. Stanford said that people are confusing this issue with the debt ceiling, and that it’s more of a political stalemate than an economic problem with the real danger coming from overheated rhetoric. Stanford says Canada’s real challenge is to keep our domestic economy going, as can’t disentangle our economy in 10 weeks.


Power Play’s journalists panel of Murray Brewster and Bill Curry spoke about the protest by one highly decorated veteran who is refusing to wear his medals this week because of his objection to the New Veterans Charter and privacy violations by the department. He also noted that Canada has not handed out any of our new Victoria Cross medals, despite the fact that equivalent medals from other countries such as Australia are being awarded for equal or lesser acts of bravery. Curry noted the problem the government is facing when more homeless veterans are being identified in shelters.

Commons Folk:

Martin’s “Commons Folk” feature this week is on NDP MP Peter Stoffer, who is noted for his collection of hats (4400 baseball caps), lapel pins (3500 of them), and buttons (over 2500) that line the walls and ceiling in his office. Stoffer said that all MPs need to understand that they have a common goal but just differing points of view. Stoffer’s interest in veterans issues comes from the fact that he was born in the Netherlands and that his family was liberated by the Canadian soldiers, and they later immigrated to Canada in 1956. Stoffer is a noted technophobe with no cell phone or BlackBerry, and he makes 45 to 60 calls every day, believing that people want to hear from their MP. The fact that people don’t know about him is that he is a huge Bob Dylan fan.