Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Drug policy, the first issue of the Conservative Leadership Race?

The first policy difference to be highlighted in the media in this 2017 Conservative Leadership race is an interesting one; I would have thought we'd be discussing tax policy or national defense first, but apparently, it's going to be marijuana, dope, weed, whatever you want to call it. A Nanos research poll in February found 68% of Canadians favour legalizing the drug, with strong majorities in all provinces, from a low of 55% in the Prairies to a high of 75% in BC, people are done with prohibition.

Our new Liberal government has promised to legalize marijuana for recreational use, but has provided no details or timeline on how it plans to do so; but we can expect a bill to this effect to come from the government benches at some point during this term. How our Conservative caucus reacts will largely depend on whom we choose as our new leader.

Kellie Leitch, the first Conservative candidate to register for the leadership race (Though she insists she's only formed an "exploratory committee) seems to be trotting out the same old tired arguments that lost us the last election. As recently as February 25th, 2016, she was railing against the Trudeau government, accusing them of giving access to marijuana to children "Now, the government wants Canadian kids to have access to a drug to smoke – marijuana" when there is clearly no evidence to that effect and no indication that children would be any more able to get a hold of marijuana than they are able to get a hold of cigarettes today. If this is the best argument Leitch can come up with against legalization, she's building her campaign platform on some very shaky ground. 
Positioned opposite her is Maxime Bernier, the only candidate to officially be in the running, Bernier has spoken several times recently about marijuana legalization stating that "I'm open [To legalization], and I want to see the details of that legislation before voting for or against it, I hope I'll be able to vote for it, I think if you have a good regulation that can control sales of marijuana, the details are very important when you speak about that, and it is why I cannot say today if I will vote for or against that bill, but I hope the regulation will be based on what's happening in other countries and I hope I'll be able to vote for that, Canadians are ready for that." Clearly stating that he's ready and willing to help implement marijuana legalization sets Bernier apart from the former government's record and shows that he's on side with the majority of the public. It also shows his ideological consistency, a conservative libertarian, Bernier knows that the government has no business telling people which plants to smoke. He's also showing that he's willing to work with the Liberals on important issues, not simply play the sort of angry "Oppose everything" politics that some seem eager to engage in.

The consequences of the drug war have been felt far and wide across this country, too many families have been broken by it, too many innocent young people incarcerated. Over a million Canadians have been arrested for simple possession of Cannabis, countless lives ruined, largely at random, based on who gets caught and who gets away. (Spoiler alert, you're more likely to get caught and charged if you're part of a visible ethnic minority.) It's past time for the Conservative Party to denounce this legacy and move forward with marijuana legalization. Though we should have a free vote when the Liberals bring forward their bill to legalize cannabis, we should have a leader who's ready to work with the Liberals to implement the best legalization program possible, not one who wants to score minor political points at the expense of everyday Canadians who happen to enjoy recreational marijuana.

Friday, April 25, 2014

PMO Staffer's (imagined) responses to May.

On Wednesday, staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that they are highly encouraged by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May’s April 13th remarks on their job performance. “It’s just so nice to have someone recognize you for the work you put in.” Nick, a communications assistant with PMO said. “I mean, when May referred to us all as “Ruthless cutthroat psychopaths” I knew that at least someone was watching.”

Justin, a media designer in PMO echoed his sentiments. “With this job we’re on call 24/7, always ready to spring into action at the slightest misstep of our opponents. It’s generally thankless work, being by your Blackberry constantly, ready to take advantage of the situation in case the leader of the opposition kills a puppy or something; so it’s really nice to see that May recognize our hard work with comments like: “They’re really just all about winning and they have a take-no-prisoners attitude.” I mean, here’s someone who just gets us, you know?”

One of the PMO’s deputy directors, who asked not to be named, said he felt his organization’s morale had improved significantly since the remarks came out, saying that “Really, we all know that we’re a crack team doing good work here, but when even your staunchest opponents like Elizabeth May acknowledge what an excellent job you’re doing at “Completely offending the principles of parliamentary democracy.” well, sometimes appreciation means more coming from your opponents than your superiors, and my team has definitely doubled down on their efforts to stop just shy of slandering our adversaries.”

At press time, the “Unelected, hyper-partisan political operatives” that May had been speaking about were undecided about whether to send her a gift basket including wine produced from the tears of their enemies or an edible arrangement cooked from the corpses of endangered animals.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How can we make life more difficult for those struggling with suicidal ideation?

That seems like a counter intuitive question, and it’s doubtful that anyone in our various police services is asking it. Instead, carelessness seems to be causing them to stumble into ways of making life worse for those who consider suicide.

Last Monday, Ann Cavoukian, the Ontario Privacy Commissioner, revealed that many Ontario police services are routinely uploading attempted suicide calls to CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre, access to which is shared with the American FBI, and Customs and Border Patrol, who have refused at least one Canadian woman entry to the states because of an attempted suicide a decade earlier. The ludicrous nature of a policy that results in individuals being barred from travelling on vacation simply because they have been suicidal at some point in the past is incredible, the emotional effect on the victims must be horrible. Imagine being told that because of how utterly miserable you were several years ago (or even at present for that matter.) you would not be allowed to take the vacation that you had already booked and paid for.

Still, I think that privacy breach pales in comparison to the one reported by B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. Denham recently revealed that police departments in B.C. are, when conducting routine background checks for new employees, including mental health data, including suicide attempts. While we can, and should, try to fight the stigma attached to suicide, to force individuals who have previously attempted suicide to openly identify themselves to potential employers is so terrible it’s hard to believe it’s happening in our present society. While discrimination may or may not follow one of these background checks, it’s clear that by giving the information out, B.C. police services are needlessly putting people at risk of discrimination on mental health grounds, and are certainly violating their privacy.

Is it any wonder that people suffering from mental illnesses have severe trust issues? It seems to me that this sort of behaviour on the behalf of police agencies erodes any confidence those with mental health issues might have had in law enforcement. Given that these people often already have extremely small support networks, won’t making them hesitate before calling 9-1-1 lead to more completed suicides, and less close calls?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Politics isn't a high priority for most people.

On Sunday, Matthew McKean argued that low voter turnout is due to a lack of confidence in
Parliamentary institutions, and the independence of our Members of Parliament. While I support
initiatives to break party discipline, I think Mr. McKean is guilty of an all too common offense, one that I
myself have been guilty of until very recently. He’s extrapolating the conversations had within the
Ottawa Bubble to the population at large.

Those of us who have spent time working and socializing in the political circles of Ottawa often make
reference to the “Ottawa bubble” but it is difficult to comprehend just how significant that factor is
when you live inside of it. Not until I left my job as a staffer on Parliament Hill and moved to the West of
the country did I begin to appreciate how insular the Ottawa Bubble really is.

People within it are well versed on the issues Parliament debates, and they care about them. Folks
within the Bubble know about the robocalls scandal, the Senate shenanigans, and which MPs have
defected from which parties. Many Canadians in the real world don’t know who their Member is, nor do
they care. While the debate on supply management rages on in the columns of the National Post, and
over freshly poured pints on Sparks Street; many Canadians don’t even know the program exists, let
alone how it could be affected by the terms of free trade deals.

Do not assume that I am attributing this ignorance to vice or laziness, I am attributing it to priorities.
Those of us who have invested our time in the political arena sometimes forget just how much time we
have invested. Most of us, on all sides of the issues, have spent more hours reading news stories, press
releases and opinion columns than we could possibly count. We each do it for our own reasons, some
are passionate about a particular cause, some are ideologues hoping to bring our version of utopia
closer to fruition, others are in it for the fame and power. We all have our own separate reasons to care,
but care we do. For most of us, this was our hobby before it became our job; but it’s a rather dry hobby
isn’t it? We choose to allocate our time to reading articles on the nuances of foreign policy, the
government’s latest immigration reforms, or the implementation of the destruction of the Long Gun
Registry. The vast majority of Canadians don’t enjoy reading about these things at all.

 Without the same odd fascination that us politicos have, most normal, well adjusted people would
rather spend their limited free time doing things they prioritize; going skiing, watching a movie, or
working overtime to pay off their debts. These people are choosing to spend their time on things that
matter to them, and have a far greater effect on their overall wellbeing; instead of on our weird political
sport. As a result, they are not informed on the issues that the elections are being fought on. Without a
knowledge of the issues, the parties, and the politicians, many of them are choosing not to vote, not
because they can’t be bothered to get out to a polling station, but because they recognize that they
don’t have any idea whether the oilsands are causing “Dutch Disease” or not, and they consider it
irresponsible, and irrational to cast a ballot when they are not informed on the issues.

The people who don’t vote won’t be swayed to the polling booth by more independence for Members
of Parliament, chiefly because they wouldn’t even notice.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Euthanasia

Yesterday, Charles Lewis published this column in the National Post. Below is my response to his final question; "What changed?"

 
Dear Charles,

At the conclusion of your column, published October 2nd, 2013, you asked "What changed?" with regards to our society's view of euthanasia. I feel compelled to provide my own meager answer to that question, though I also feel that you have already answered it without realizing as much.

In the middle of your column, you write "I should probably say that I have never been a libertarian and I suppose the autonomous life is part of libertarian thinking." This I think is what has changed.

For a long time we have been content to place the "good of the many" above the "good of the few" but we have borne witness to the flaws of this course of action again and again. We have seen homosexuals persecuted for their sexual orientation, allegedly because it would cause social degradation if allowed unchecked. We have seen those addicted to intoxicating drugs punished and victimized by our legal system, allegedly to serve as an example to keep our kids from drugs. Just recently we have come to realize how much each of us has been victimized; our privacy stripped away, in the name of public safety, with government surveillance programs monitoring our every communication. Indeed, even the email I am sending to your now is likely being logged by several security agencies.

Perhaps bearing witness to so many situations where individual’s needs and interests were supressed in the name of some "greater good" has made more of us realize that there can be no society without individuals, and that asking some individuals to suffer for "the good of society" is not ultimately in anyone's best interest.

Perhaps we are simply becoming more compassionate to other individuals, and thus, less willing to restrict their choices, less willing to claim that we know what is best for others.

Perhaps we are becoming more libertarian.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Getting it right on Foreign Policy


I frequently quarrel with the government over issues when I think they're getting it wrong, that's natural. We tend to focus on the bad things and those that we wish to change instead of the things that are already going well, it's why your news every night is filled with plane crashes instead of stories of the thousands of safe landings every day. I advocate looking at the broader picture, not putting on blinders and only focusing on the negatives.

In that spirit, I'm very pleased with the Government of Canada's response to the Syrian Civil War. Prime Minister Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird have been very clear that they will not send weapons to the Syrian Rebels, nor to the Syrian government. In a situation like this, where two groups of people are both morally objectionable, and have both committed war crimes, the solution is not to pick what you think of as the lesser of two evils, as the United States have done, nor to defend your strategic resources, as Russia has done; but instead to roundly condemn the war, and offer assistance to the innocent people who are caught in the crossfire.

So far the government has committed $180 million dollars to help with humanitarian aid. While I disagree with government aid in general, I think that this is a far better use of tax dollars than purchasing weapons for either side in the war.

Even better, and what I would prefer to see more of, are the actions begun by (Now former) Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to bring 1300 Syrian refugees out of the conflict zone and here to safety in Canada. Of those, 200 will be resettled by the government, the other 1100 by private sponsors.

This action is one of the best things that Canada can do for the people of Syria, simply offering them a way out, and I am proud that our government has recognized such. I hope that they will allow more refugees to come once these intial 1300 have been allowed in, as no one deserves to live in a war zone, nor a refugee camp.


Update: in 2013, only 45 of the 1300 slots were taken.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Rebutting bad arguments against ending prohibition.


Recently Monte Solberg wrote this article arguing against an end to marijuana prohibition. I strongly disagree with his arguments and would like to offer my counter points.

His first argument is that, if Marijuana were legalized, people would grow it themselves to avoid taxes. I think this is simply untrue, a quick look at other heavily taxed substances shows as much. Alcohol is heavily taxed, and brewing your own beer is inexpensive, but time consuming. I myself have brewed some, and while I enjoyed it, I stopped, and went back to purchasing the over taxed products offered by the government monopolies. Why? Convenience.

Certainly people could plant marijuana plants in their backyard and wait months for them to mature, and weeks for them to dry before smoking their marijuana, and some will, but they will be a small minority, just as those who currently brew their own beer are. We live in a society that values instant gratification, and convenience, and the ability to purchase marijuana ready to smoke will far outweigh the additional costs imposed by taxation for the vast majority of users.

Next he argues that home grown marijuana will be more available to youths. Mr. Solberg offers no evidence to back this up, and I can see no reason to suspect it would. The difference between Mom buying a joint at the store or growing a plant in the backyard is unlikely to affect youth access unless the youths in question are in the habit of raiding the garden and drying the plants themselves.

He argues that it will be more difficult to test people for impaired driving, but driving impaired is already an offense, and people already drive under the influence of marijuana. If police wish to keep impaired drivers off our streets, they must develop reliable tests for impairment with all substances, legal or illegal.

His final point is one that is often repeated in this country, everyone from former Tory cabinet ministers to Grit strategist Warren Kinsella has made the argument that we can't legalize marijuana or we will jeopardize trade with the United States. The attitude in those United States is changing though; already two of them have outright legalized marijuana for recreational use, including Washington, a border state. The US has not put up checkpoints at the edges of those states, (partially because such a thing would be immensely unconstitutional.) but even if they did, would foreign pressure from without be sufficient reason to leave in place domestic policies that are causing harm to our own citizens?

I for one, think not. Ending prohibition is important, and I commend Justin Trudeau for taking a stance in favour of legalization.

Mr. Solberg's further criticisms of Mr. Trudeau strike me as much more accurate. He does not often speak on policy, he refuses to engage in substantive debate about the details of policy, and he prefers to deal in buzzwords and feelings rather than solutions and specifics. These are the problems we've had with him since day one, and he deserves to be confronted on them.

But his marijuana policy is relatively sound, certainly more so than that of the Conservatives or NDP, who are content to leave a terrible system in place because the status quo seems safe and comfortable to them.