Category Archives: cannabis

David Merner and the Conversation the Liberal Party Needs to Have

David Merner (left) and Alberta Liberal Party president Todd Van Vliet (right.)

It’s funny, I thought I would be running as a pro-business, pro-environment West-coast Liberal but it looks like I’ve become the ‘cooperation candidate.‘” That was former LPC(BC) President David Merner’s reaction when I told him that I had read Gloria Galloway’s article in the Globe and Mail and I had some questions for him about Liberal/NDP cooperation.

Mr. Merner held a meet-and-greet in Toronto at the Duke of York on Friday (it was the second of these type of events that I had attended in as many weeks.) With Jean Chrétien openly musing about the prospect of a LPC-NDP merger, David and I agreed that the party needs to talk openly about cooperation (though Merner, like myself is vehemently opposed to a merger) and we can’t be afraid of talking openly about so-called “Liberal sacred cows.*” If the Liberal Party doesn’t have a serious conversation on what I have termed “progressive cooperation,” there will be fissures within the party that may weaken us going in to the 2015 election. However, Nathan Cullen only received 24.6% of the vote on the 3 (and 2nd last) ballot at the NDP leadership convention back in March. The pair of candidates on the final ballot (Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair) were two of the fiercest opponents of cooperation with the Liberal Party in the running to succeed Jack Layton.

When Merner talks about cooperation he focuses on reaching out to the Greens, red-tories and (a term he introduced me to that I now love) “conservation-conservatives.” As a Liberal campaigning in Victoria B.C., he realizes that in ridings in that area, and in places like Vancouver and Toronto, cooperation with the NDP (our main opponents) wouldn’t make sense. Merner’s approach to cooperation fits in well with the pragmatism that is a pillar of the modern Liberal party. “We should be about creating choices for Canadians not reducing choices.” Merner believes that any practical form of electoral cooperation must, like the debate on cooperation, come from the bottom up. He pointed to the deal between Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May not to run candidates in each-others’ respective ridings as a top down decision that had negative results. This pragmatic attitude was on display when I asked Merner about two of my top issues, cannabis legalization and high-speed rail. Merner supports legalization, calling prohibition a “waste of police resources” while pointing out how cannabis would be a cash crop in British Columbia. On high-speed rail he wasn’t afraid to disagree with me bluntly. We talked about the proposed Edmonton-Calgary and Quebec-Windsor lines. He compared commitments to building massive high-speed rail lines to previous Liberal governments failure to reach ambitious environmental goals. “We need to be the party of practical solutions to real problems.”

David Merner bristled at the fact that certain party officials have said that progressive cooperation is “not up for discussion.” I agree. As the third party we need to show that the Liberal Party’s approach is different than the NDP or CPC‘s. To do this the Liberal Party needs to produce and promote bold policies and we need a competitive leadership race where the candidates aren’t afraid to constructively criticize the party.

David Merner is an intelligent and engaging candidate. Let’s not close our minds to any of the candidates because the media interprets one of his or her positions narrowly or incorrectly.

* Real, substantive health care reform and realistic targets to reduce carbon emissions were two such “sacred cows” that we discussed at the Friday evening event.

Thomas Mulcair’s flip-flop on cannabis is disappointing but not surprising

On January 25th, 2012, a survey was released on (a pro-NDP anti-prohibition website) where Thomas Mulcair’s campaign stated that he was in favour of decriminalizing cannabis and was very much in favour of medical marijuana. On March 18th, 2012 Mulcair was doing a t.v. interview with Tom Clark (see the video above) and he declared that he was opposed to decriminalization and that cannabis needed more study.

This may come as a shock to Canadians and those who voted NDP in the last election but it didn’t surprise me at all. The NDP, under Jack Layton and now Thomas Mulcair, has always masqueraded as Canada’s progressive political party but when it comes to the war on drugs they have always refused to take a bold stance in favour of drug legalization (as the Liberal Party did at the beginning of the year during our biennial convention.)

Jack Layton favoured decriminalization* (when he was forced to give his views) but he never really emphatically campaigned on the issue. With overly-harsh sentences and a dumb-on-crime agenda being one of the major pillars of Stephen Harper’s agenda, the opposition can’t afford to be tepid in our response to the PM’s evidence-free policies. Mulcair is taking a position that will let Stephen Harper muddy the waters and undercut the progressive approach to crime that the opposition parties should be putting forward during the next election. I hope that Mulcair is shamed into changing his position (once again) when he realizes that he is to the right of the Liberal Party on this issue.

*Decriminalization is usually what politicians support when they want to punt on the issue. Legalization provides the federal government with a source of revenue and would allow the RCMP/police to go after real criminals.

Sunday, January 15h, 2012: The Day the Crime Debate Changed

“At a time when global competition is growing and our crime rate is falling, it is smarter to invest in education than jails. – Dalton McGuinty

After two days of sessions on the economy, health care, foreign policy, the environment and evidence based policy, the 3200 delegates who attended the Liberal Party of Canada’s 2012 biennial convention arrived at Canada Hall to debate and vote on priority policy resolution.

That Sunday morning 77% of voting delegates courageously voted “Yes” to policy resolution 117. “Legalize and Regulate Marijuana.” Without hyperbole, I would argue that this has helped fundamentally transform the crime debate paradigm in Canada.

For the first time a major Canadian political party has put legalization on the table:

The Liberal convention was an affirmation that the Liberal party is down but not out. With more delegates in attendance than the most recent NDP and CPC conventions combined and a full 1/3 of delegates under 30 years-of-age, the Liberal confirmed we are here to stay, which makes policy resolution 117 so much more potent. Finally, a major Canadian political party will be talking about how to attack the real roots of crime instead of haggling over how many years a teenager should spend in jail because they owned two pot plants.

Contrary to the view of many Canadians, the New Democratic Party does not support legalization. During the 2011 election the NDP buried any progressive crime policies that they allegedly support. In fact, drugs/cannabis were not even mentioned in their platform. The NDP has yet to respond to the Liberal legalization motion passing. When it comes to crime policy, the NDP has spent the last decade tacking centre. Jack Layton even refused to whip the vote to save the gun registry and did not campaign on reinstating it in order to preserve the NDP’s rural seats.

The pro-prohibition side has been put on defense:

After the Liberal convention concluded the National Post’s editorial board endorsed legalization and regulation of marijuana. They also published a poll showing that the majority of Canadians support legalization. In a free society, governments should have to have a reason for keeping a substance/action illegal, not making it legal. The Liberal Party has now forced PM Harper and the Conservatives to defend a failed drug war that has cost Canada hundreds of millions and actually creates more crime in the process. Policy resolution 117 also gives cover to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Canadians who support evidence-based crime policy but are afraid of being labled “soft-on-crime.”

Bob Rae embraced the policy in his convention closing speech:

Bob Rae did not shy away from legalization in his speech at the end of the convention (a speech he knew would be watched and re-watched online by hundreds of thousands of Canadians.) Mr. Rae put out the complex argument that supporters of legalization have been making for years but have been ignored in the simplistic sham of a crime debate put forward by the Harper Conservatives. He acknowledged that alcohol and cigarettes are the most addictive substances facing the youth of Canada. By using the legalization and regulation motion as a symbol of “evidence based policy” (the theme of the convention), Bob Rae helped bring new energy to a debate that has suffered from so much inertia.


For years advocates for Legalization, like myself, have been waiting for something to explode the current non-debate on crime and finally bring an end to the stasis in this particular policy discussion. It is up to all Canadians, Liberal, NDP, Conservative, Green or nonaligned, to make sure that the crime debate in Canada is based on facts.

“Let’s face up to it Canada, the war on drugs has been a complete bust!” – Bob Rae

My Liberal Christmas Wish List.

It’s Christmas Time, so here is my list, of things I’d like the Liberal Party of Canada to do in 2011:

1. Add separate “Crime” & “Infrastructure” areas to the “Issues” section of the Liberal Party website.

In his end-of-the-year interview with the CBC, Michael Ignatieff said he was ready to challenge Stephen Harper on his dumb-on-crime policies. The Liberal Party is also the party of sound infrastructure policy. Mr. Ignatieff has been looking for a grand national project to unite Canadians and bring them into the big-red-tend, how about high speed rail? The Liberal Party needs to provide a solid alternative to Harper’s policies. On crime, the Conservatives have ineffective, evidence-ignoring policies so the Liberals should really be turning their strength into weakness and  infrastructure provides jobs and new technologies.

2. Appoint a “Education” critic.

The Liberal Party has made the knowledge economy the centerpiece of their jobs platform. With this in mind, why not appoint an education critic and promise to make a Federal Ministry of Education when in government. The census issue opened up an even larger gap between the Conservatives and Canadians with post secondary education and raising the issue of education nationally is not only good politics, it is great policy.

3. Liberal merchandise.

The Liberal Party has so many great Prime Ministers in its history and needs to improve its branding and fund-raising. The LPC should add a “merchandise” section to its website. This is one of many great ways to engage younger Canadians, bring together Liberal Canadians and, above all, get me a Liberal Party t-shirt.

4. Dispel any Coalition-related doubt.

During the end-of-the-year “At Issue” Panel on the CBC, Andrew Coyne made a great point. He said that the fact that Michael Ignatieff/the Liberal Party has yet to publicly/emphatically declare that, going into the next election, there is no coalition between the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc, has scared off many right-of-centre Canadians from the Liberal Party and given left-of-centre Canadians an excuse to vote NDP in the knowledge that they are also semi-supporting the Liberals. I wholeheartedly agree. In the New Year, the Liberals should make a video highlighting the fact that we are already a coalition (which would help popularize the phrase “Big-Red-Tent” which isn’t yet part of the popular culture) and making clear that there is no pre-election deal between the Liberals and any other party. This would have added benefits. The Conservatives are going to keep lying and repeating the word “coalition” over and over no matter what the Liberals do*. If the Liberals did remove all doubt about any pre-election coalition, it would be a national news story, and after that the Conservatives would look like quite the fool with all of their scaremongerin and bloviating.

Those are just a few suggestions (I have been prescient about this kind of thing in the past.) The Liberal Party has a lot of work ahead of it, but we are the party of ideas, we are the party of real leadership, we are the Big-Red-Tent at the centre of Canadian politics!

Thank you so much for reading my blog this year. I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a safe, happy and blessed New Year!


Safe-injection sites: Fantino Vs. Fantino


So far I have discussed Julian Fantino’s extreme/repugnant views on the Death Penalty and The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Vaughan byelection is just 13 days away and Mr. Fantino has been hiding from the media in true Stephen Harper fashion. Fantino and Harper aren’t just in lock-step in their concept for the Charter and the media, they were both in favour of the life-saving/police supported gun registry before they were against it.

Julian Fantino’s factless, self-contradicting position on safe-injection sites:

I remember one meeting of the Major Cities Chiefs when Vancouver chief Jamie Graham talked about a new initiative in his city – the so-called safe-injection site for drug users on the Eastside. Well, everyone’s jaws dropped. This was Graham’s first time at the meeting and his presentation didn’t go over too well. Vancouver’s safe-injection site was made possible with funding from the Canadian government. The feds spent a lot of money to provide drug addicts with a place to shoot up with illicit drugs. I didn’t think it was a good idea and neither did the other chiefs. Why not? If people buy drugs illegally and are in possession illegal drugs, and then the authorities provide them with a facility to use those drugs, that means society is actively promoting the illicit drug market. If that’s not enough, it develops a double standard for the police because they are supposed to look the other way. In short, we are spending pubic money to facilitate drug use and I think that’s wrong. Now, Jamie Graham, who retired as Vancouver’s chief in the summer  of 2007, was a good guy and a good chief who believed in all this, and that’s fine, but the chiefs as a group weren’t into it.

The safe-injection site and needle-exchange programs are built around the health issue; drugs addicts are expected to turn in their needles. It’s supposed to be a needle exchange so they won’t be trading needles. The idea is that nobody gets AIDS and other diseases. The problem is, there is no needle exchange because the addicts never bring in their needs. Never. And even in Toronto, some city councillors think this would be a good idea and advocate safe-injection sites. But there is no such thing as the safe injection of illicit drugs. Those who advocate this are sugar-coating things with a palatable, harm-reduction theme so the public will accept it. But the reality is, we are losing the battle and not doing what we should to get young people off these drugs. We do not need safe-injection sites and needles exchanges. What we need is a holistic approach. I’m talking about education and treatment; prevention, not facilitation, is the answer.Julian Fantino. “Duty.” Chapter 15. Being in the Hot Seat. Pages 234-235.

In fleshing out his own philosophy on crime and crime-fighting Mr. Fantino first declares that prisons should have the final goal of rehabilitation (Duty, 53) he tries to argue that deterrence should be the primary function of our criminal justice system (Duty, 54.) When discussing drugs and drug-addiction, Mr. Fantino is slightly-more moderate than the Harper Conservatives in government as he argues that detoxification-centres are key to fighting drug crime (Duty, 77.)

Like the myth of Conservatives as competent physical managers, the notion that Julian Fantino’s experience as a police officer/chief means that he understands public policy is demonstrably false:

Safe-injection sites DO NOT increase drug usage: There is no evidence to suggest Vancouver’s pilot supervised injection facility, known as Insite, has prompted elevated rates of initiation into injection drug use, according to  findings unveiled by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at the XVI International AIDS Conference. Mr. Fantino’s “gut feelings” about drugs come into direct opposition with the facts. In 2009 alone, Insite counsellors made more than 6,000 referrals to other social and health service agencies, the vast majority of which were for detox and addiction treatment.

“INSITE” has a solid record, with no deaths from overdoses: 484 overdose interventions with no fatalities (2009.)

Safe-injection sites INCREASE the rate of drug addicts entering detox programs: A study by the B.C Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS reveals that Insite’s opening to a 30% increase in detoxification use by facility users. Importantly, new findings suggest Insite users who began detox were more likely to both enrol in longer-term addiction treatment and reduce injecting.

Portugal decriminalized all drugs and usage DID NOT increase: In the early aughts Portugal decriminalized all drugs, switching their focus from enforcement to treatment. Usage did not go up, as Mr. Fantino falsely posits, and treatment went up.


The Harper government has spent >$1million of tax payers’ money taking Insite to court. This is not only an attack on a medical facility with proven results, it is an attack on the provinces’ rights to administer health (we are a long way from the Alberta Firewall letter) that Mr. Fantino supports. If Fantino really wanted a “holistic” approach, he’d support Insite not reflexively/regressively oppose the facility. Fantino uses his gut and ignores facts, like the Conservatives on crime, the census, and foreign policy.

Stephen Harper and Julian Fantino want to fill our prisons, and create more criminals while ignoring mental health issues and adding to their ever-growing multi-billion dollar deficit.

Stephen Harper and Julian Fantino are dumb-on-crime.

Rob Ford’s Gigantic Campaign Debt: Foreboding Irony

Today the Toronto Sun reported that Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign ended with a staggering $650,000 deficit.

This is just one more example of how Mayor Elect Ford is penny wise and pound foolish (for example: replacing streetcars with buses and hiring hundreds of new TTC employees to do so.)

In many ways the 2010 Toronto Mayoral Election was in no way unique. Rob Ford’s campaign was a class conservative campaign which pitted right-wing ideology against reality. David Miller was actually a pretty good mayor and Rob Ford was the ultimate establishment candidate as a long-time city councillor.

Rob Ford is now Toronto’s mayor after an election campaign based entirely upon what he is against (art, bike lanes, and non-existent but delicious-sounding “gravy trains.”) Let’s hope the way he ran his campaign, which may have got suburban-Torontonians riled up but certainly didn’t unite the city with a grand vision, isn’t how he governs Canada’s greatest city.

$650,000, let’s stop pretending that Rob Ford is fiscally responsible.

Michael Ignatieff Gets Smart On Crime

Yesterday, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that downgrades the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction.

On September 28th at the during the first of his weekly Open Mike town hall forums to be held throughout the fall Mr. Ignatieff said Liberals would reintroduce Martin Cauchon’s bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. He also reiterated his support for Insite saying “The Liberals would like to see Vancouver’s Insite safe-injection sites replicated across the country.”

As California gears up to pass Proposition 19, legalizing cannabis, in November, Michael Ignatieff is laying the ground work for the Liberal Party to win the national cannabis debate that will be set off by that vote. For four years Stephen Harper/Vic Toews/Rob Nicholson have worked so hard to suppress real, evidence-based debate. The decriminalization law signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger will turn the debate from ideology to reality. Soon Prime Minister Harper will have to defend his dumb-on-crime agenda that has wasted billions, attacked the provinces’ right to administer health care, worked to deprive Canadian police of a valuable crime-fighting tool, helped fund gangs all while crime in Canada is on the decline.

It is great to see Michael Ignatieff being progressive and proactive.