Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Kudos to the Young Liberals
The move is remarkably out of character for a party's that played the dead centre (to death) for quite some time. It's been the traditional role of other parties - like the NDP or the Greens1 - to come up with and push for innovative public policies before the Liberals steal the ideas and run with them. Nevertheless, being reduced to third party status really changes a party's outlook and the overall political dynamic2. For a party whose caucus has been reduced to a 34 MP rump, it's too risky not to take risks.
Federal Liberals are taking some risky departures from the cautious political norm in a bid to put their once-mighty party back on the electoral map.
Sunday, they overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for the legalization and regulation of marijuana -- a position immediately endorsed in principle by interim leader Bob Rae, although it remains to be seen how, or if, the resolution translates into a platform plank for the next election.
"Let's face up to it, Canada: The war on drugs has been a complete bust," Rae declared in a closing speech to a three-day Liberal renewal convention.
Until now, Liberals have called only for decriminalization of marijuana, as has the NDP. The new call to legalize it completely and regulate its production and sale, much as with alcohol, is in stark contrast to the policy of the governing Conservatives, who included stiffer penalties for marijuana possession in their omnibus tough-on-crime bill.
("Legalize weed, Grit delegates say". Winnipeg Free Press. Jan. 16, 2012)
While Rae's passionate denounciation of Canada's failed War on Drugs (or, rather, war on people who use them) is nice to hear, it would've even been nicer to hear of the Liberals tabling actual policy changes while they had back-to-back majorities.
Rae told delegates it makes no sense "to send another generation of young people into prison" for marijuana offences when "the most addictive substances that are facing Canada today are alcohol and cigarettes."Okay, this might just be a cheap gimmick (given the lack of any actual binding to follow through and the history of Liberal inaction on this issue). Nevertheless, I have congratulate the Young Liberals for actually getting the War on Drugs and Canada's vestigial connection to Britain's old aristocracy into the national conversation. Maybe there's hope for the Liberal Party after all.
Though they were willing to take some risks, delegates balked at a resolution calling on Canada to consider cutting its ties to the monarchy, an idea that would open a constitutional can of worms.
Both the marijuana and monarchy resolutions were put forward by the party's youth wing, which argued the Liberal party needs to advance bold ideas that are more reflective of young people if it is to revive.
"I think that there's a certain amount of generational change happening in the party," said Samuel Lavoie, president of the Liberal youth wing.
The marijuana resolution is not binding on the leader or party. Delegates specifically rejected a proposal to remove the leader's veto over the contents of future election platforms, so there's no guarantee the party will ever actually campaign on legalizing pot.
Under Jean Chrétien's government, the Liberals introduced legislation to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a ticketing, rather than criminal, offence.
The bill was not pursued when Paul Martin took over the helm of the party and the Harper government has since dropped the idea entirely, moving in the opposite direction.
1 The Liberals took the NDP's predecessor - the CCF's - idea of publicly funded universal healthcare and adopted NDP ideas like pension indexing. The Liberal Government's 2005 Budget was even considered Canada's "first NDP budget" given the impression negotiations with the NDP left on it. Stephane Dion's ill-fated "Green Shift" was long preceded by Green Party calls for a carbon tax. ↩
2 One need only look in Manitoba, where Liberal leader Jon Gerrard pressed for adoption rights for same-sex couples a full year before the (less innovative, more cautious) NDP government tabled the bill to see how a change in relative position radically alters a party's strategy. ↩