Sunday, May 28, 2006

Canadian "cool" and American Bullshit

Decriminalization marijuana, a promise to anyway, SSM and Canada’s opposition to Iraq made Canada in the words of Economist “cool”. Other publications expressed similar sentiments and all cases above three where the focal points. For example:

The New Yorker:

“They have a comparatively sensible approach to the drug problem: while our federal government tries strenuously to put marijuana smokers in jail, even (or especially) when the marijuana has been smoked for medical purposes in states whose people have voted to sanction such use, their federal government is about to decriminalize the possession of small amounts. And now—with a minimum of fuss, hardly any hysteria, and no rending of garments—they have made it legal for persons of the same gender to marry each other. …

“A week later, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced that, instead of trying to get the decision overturned, his cabinet would seek to codify it. Legislation is to be drafted over the next few weeks, vetted by Canada’s supreme court, and submitted to the federal parliament. It’s pretty much a lock that, perhaps as early as next fall, gay marriage will be the undisputed law of the land from St. John’s to the Klondike.
This ghastly prospect was evidently on Scalia’s mind as he composed his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas. If sodomy laws are unsustainable, he warned, then so are “laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation”—masturbation? is that one still on the books?—“adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity.” Doom looms, it would appear. According to Scalia, “The Court has taken sides in the culture war,” and the next step, logically, must be “judicial imposition of homosexual marriage, as has recently occurred in Canada.” Leaving aside the question of who, exactly, gay marriage would be an imposition upon, ….
Good old Canada. It’s the kind of country that makes you proud to be a North American.”

San Jose Mercury:


Oh, Canada! Has someone dumped something into your water?

The government up there will soon bless gay marriages, hand out marijuana to cancer patients and legalize possession of small amounts of pot by others. Canadians were as staunchly against the war in Iraq as San Franciscans. Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto are as ethnically diverse as San Jose -- and tolerant, too.

Americans have tended to think of Canada, if at all, as a placid little brother, a bland 51st state. How times have changed.

In terms of soul mates, the Bay Area could be Canada's 11th province.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

“And then there's the wild drug situation: Canadian doctors are authorized to dispense medical marijuana. Parliament is considering legislation that would not exactly legalize marijuana possession, as you may have heard, but would reduce the penalty for possession of under 15 grams to a fine, like a speeding ticket. This is to allow law enforcement to concentrate resources on traffickers; if your garden is full of wasps, it's smarter to go for the nest rather than trying to swat every individual bug. Or, in the United States, bong.
… Like teenagers, we fiercely idolize individual freedom but really demand that everyone be the same. But the Canadians seem more adult -- more secure. They aren't afraid of foreigners. They aren't afraid of homosexuality. Most of all, they're not afraid of each other.
I wonder if America will ever be that cool.”

Christian Science Monitor:

“It's moving to become the third nation on the planet to legalize gay marriage. It's primed to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. And it vocally opposed the US war on Iraq. These moves reflect a growing cultural assertiveness - especially on the importance of tolerance and multiculturalism, which are enshrined in Canada's version of the Bill of Rights. The shift is increasingly putting the US and Canada - the world's biggest trading partners - on a cultural collision course.”

Why did these issues come to define a nation south of the boarder and why did, in words of the words of Bill O’Reilly, “The Canadian model [become] what progressive Americans [were] shooting for.” The moving to Canada meme was, after all, not born of nowhere.

The reason I think is this. The dominant critique of the Bush administration inside and outside the US is that it plays fast and loose with the facts, often pandering to US society’s worst fears and prejudges, for political gain. These three issues are excellent examples of where the Bush administration did exactly that. American progressives latched on what was happening in Canada because they thought Canadian politicians respected their citizens enough not to try to BS them into accepting policies of little merit. Of course the fact that until Dean, Democratic party did not dear question the merits or rational of the Iraq adventure and that they have been almost as bad as the Republicans in pushing reefer madness and defense of marriage also helps to explain why American progressives latched on to Canada. There has long been a progressive void in the states.

Needless to say, it was silly of American progressives to put any faith in Martin and in the Liberals. He proceeded at snails pace with regard to SSM, arguably would have taken us to Iraq if he had of been prime Minster at the time and never moved forward on marijuana legislation. Whenever Martin had an opportunity to come down against BS, as during Terry Shivio saga, he declined. One can only presume that he did not wish to divert the public’s attention away from the inquiry that was devouring the Liberal party; after all, the public might forget that it was he who called the Gomery Inquiry. The Conservative victory back in January officially closed the book on “cool” Canada and now we ourselves are drowning BS gleefully heaped on us by the Conservatives. As for the Liberals, they are looking more like the Martin government minus the power or headlines everyday, completely lifeless and without a soul.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Marijuana Policy and Liberal Bad Faith

The Le Dain Commission called for Marijuana to be decriminalized some 33 ago.

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"The ordinary citizen, seeing the assertions implied by the law frequently belied by pharmacological fact or the effects that he himself experiences in the use of drugs, has long since ceased to look for a relationship between the harmfulness of a substance and its classification under criminal law. In this domain, it must be said that the criminal law is thoroughly outdated and outworn."
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Marie-Andrée Bertrand, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Montreal, Le Dain Commission 1973.

Gordon Gibson explained Trudeau’s reaction thus: “The report was released as we were touring a bull-semen facility in Guelph, Ont. (I am not making this up.) The press cared not at all about productive agriculture and totally about weed. At an end-of-tour press conference, the prime minister was asked if he favoured decriminalization. We were in the semen facility's boardroom and it had a blackboard with a permanent picture of Elsie the cow painted on, perhaps in recognition of the customer base. Mr. Trudeau was very quick. Saying not a word, he went to the blackboard, took the chalk and drew a cartoonist's balloon out of the cow's mouth. Inside he slowly wrote, "I like grass!" The room dissolved in laughter.” With regard to marijuana, the Liberals have lived in a perpetual state of bad faith ever since.

Sure in the 1980 throne speech Trudeau did say that it was time "to move cannabis offences to the Food and Drug Act and remove the possibility of imprisonment for simple possession”, but that never came to past and such comments only served as an acknowledgment and a reminder that the Liberal party had kept marijuana possession illegal for 7 years without itself believing in the rational for keeping it illegal.

In 2002 a Senate Committee looking into the issue of marijuana recommended in start terms that marijuana legal. Shortly thereafter Canada’s possession laws began to creak and break under their own internal contradictions; for four months Ontario had no possession law and laws in other jurisdictions narrowly avoided the same fate. Neither escaped Jean Chrétien notice. Chrétien did not share Trudeau’s catholic guilt in not allowing truth to prevail. However he did have revengeful streak, a good sense of Martin conservatism and good sense of political timing. He promised to decriminalize marijuana possession; Canadians he promised would face fines not criminal charges. His public musings about trying marijuana were a cruel reminder of the fact that for decades Canada had on its books a law its leaders literally regarded as a laughing matter. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand.”

A commitment to decriminalize marijuana stayed Liberal policy after the Chrétien left and Martin took over, but remained a neglected child weighted down my provisions and language designed to pacify the Americans. Indeed, it seems that the more Martin tried to tape into anti Bush sentiment in Canada the more he was willing to allow the US to control Canadian drug policy. The Marc Emery case is a great example. For years Marc Emery had been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in Federal taxes on money he made “selling marijuana seeds”. Yet last summer, at the behest of the American government, Canada arrested Emery and laid the groundwork for him to be sent to the States to face charges. If convicted, which is a forgone conclusion given that Emery never hid what he was doing, Emery faces anywhere for 10 years to life behind bars for a crime that is rarely prosecuted in Canada and has only ever warranted a small fine. An attempt by BC marijuana activist to save Emery from being sent to the States speaks volumes about the Martin’s government lack of courage and bad faith. The activist has long pressed to have Emery charged under Canadian law. Under the terms of the extradition treaty, one can not be extradited if one is facing the same charge in one’s country of residence and one was arrested there. So far his efforts have not been successful. Canadian authorities seem unwilling to charge him under Canadian law, but are willing to send him to the States to face 10 to life in prison.

Needless to say, neither of what Chrétien or Martin proposed would have worked. One can not have, on the one hand, stringent enforcement for trafficking and, on the other hand, mere fines for possession. The problem is that at bottom the population rightly views marijuana as being pretty innocuous and this undermines the legitimacy of such a sharp conceptual divide. Indeed it undermines the legitimacy of Canada having any sort of marijuana laws at all. Even parking tickets have to be seen to serve some legitimate purpose for people not to view them as an unfair imposition. Such was not the case with the Liberals proposed Marijuana fines. Sure, Canadians understand that the Americans would not be pleased about legalization and as such there would be certain practical advantages to not legalizing it. However, that does not make marijuana prohibition in a general sense legitimate in their eyes; it just means that Canada is tailoring its own laws to meet the demands of Americans consideree so illegitimate that popular cultural considers them a symptom of madness “refer madness”. This can not stand. Any perception that Canada is enforcing laws to met with illegitimate demands of a bullying third party, whoever that may be, is simply poisonous to the health of a functioning democracy.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Liberal Party is broken: A new Policy focus needed

The Liberal Party of Canada is broken. Its political strategists are grossly incompetent and the party has no long term strategy to speak of. However that is not the worst of it; the party has lost the ability to inspire; it is party without a soul or character.

The confrontational, impish, poetic and witty Trudeau is gone, as is the crusty, cagy street fighter Chrétien. The last Liberal leader neither inspired Canadians with his intellect and humor, nor did he have our grudging respect as many had for Chrétien’s plebian tenuousness. Martin was not hated; he was the kind of Prime Minster a focus group would prefer; he was good on paper. However, in reality Martin’s temperamental conservativism, stuttering, dithering and lack of conviction, corporate world view that shone through even in the name given to Liberal candidates, viz., “Team” Martin, dampened the enthusiasm for those how supported Liberal social policy. Such was the case with child care and SSM. His naïve belief that he could use Gomery to win the Liberal civil war and still come out unscathed was one of the biggest blunders in Canadian political history. Such was Martin’s talent, people thought he was lying even when he was telling the truth.

Graham is little better, but he is only a temporary plug.

In order to capture the imagination of Canadians the Liberals need to develop policies that are as readily comprehensible as tax cuts are. Simply promising to improve health care, the environment and education mean nothing. Indeed, as a rule of thumb if the negation of a promise makes no political sense, then such appeals are so much hot air and noise. Furthermore, although promises to increase funding to the aforementioned big three are not completely void, Canadians need to know just how increased funding will be cashed out, so to speak.

The Liberals need to look beyond our borders as a guide, but they need first look back at the past. Trudeau’s lasting legacy will be the Charter and the Charter, or more correctly the longing for “a Just Society” that the Charter symbolized are still part of the Liberal brand name. The Charter is designed to help make a dreams come true. Incidentally, unaware of the significance and meaning of Trudeau’s legacy, Martin perverted Trudeau’s vision in defending SSM. For Martin, the Charter was not a tool to better ourselves with and not a symbol of hope for a better tomorrow, but a legal framework compelling us to act a la Max Weber’s Iron Cage of Rationality. “Our hopes are high. Our faith in the people is great. Our courage is strong. And our dreams for this beautiful country will never die” became one can not “cherry pick rights”; the implication being that SSM was not a cherry. For Martin’s Liberals, SSM was not a righteous cause, but was rather the straight man’s burden.

Part and parcel of rediscovering Trudeau’s legacy is that the Liberals need to rediscover universality. Under Mulroney and Chrétien universality died as Stephen Harper duly and happily noted in 1994.

"Universality has been severely reduced: it is virtually dead as a concept in most areas of public policy…These achievements are due in part to the Reform Party.”

Under Martin the Liberals did rediscover universality again – well sort of. They promised to implement a “universal” early childhood education program that would in drips in drabs grow bigger over literally decades with no time line as to when the program would become truly universal. The more the Liberals talked up the need for more child care the more inadequate and lackluster their proposal appeared. Needless to say, piece meal universality is no universality at all and if the Liberals want to capture the imagination of Canadians by promising a universal program they better make sure that they are able to deliver and all at once.

One issue worth exploring is expanding the Canada health care to include dental care. As business picks up most of the dental tab already, the idea of offloading the coasts of dental to the public sector will have its supporters even on the corporate right. Paul Martin may be of some use still.

Alas it is unlikely that the current crop of Liberals will move beyond their commitment to universal early childhood education for 10 to 15 percent of children 3 to 6 in 5 to ten years time. Worse, the way Harper is going the ability of the Federal government to implement any social programs is quickly being crippled.

One thing that Liberals can certainly do is to steal a page from the rest of the Western world minus the US and give Canadians more vacation time. Everyone else gets at least 4 weeks: Canadians deserve no less.

If the Liberals going to recapture the hearts of Canadians they are going to have stop acting and sounding like a bunch of ninnies and above all stop trying to please everyone. Paul Martin sometimes acted as if he was heading up Disney and not a political party. Martin acted as if scandal and controversy were of a piece. They are not. The foundation of many a government is controversy and confrontation. Isn’t that right Ralph Klein? The foundation of Klein’s rule has been opposition to Ottawa and it not just a coincidence that Klein was being ushered out the door as a new Conservative Prime is being ushered in. Anyway, back to Trudeau for second. Could anyone ever picture Martin saying the following?

“Yes, well there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed”

Rhetoric only goes so far though. If one is really going to piss off a targeted group and have them scream bloodly murder, there is no substitute for policy. Now, pitting one region of the country against region is not good long term strategy. It limits one potential for growth. The targets should be selected on primarily on the basis of ideology and the nature of the confrontation should be just that. For the Liberals, as I have said time and again, angering social conservatives and the Bush administration is winning strategy, particularly with regards to Quebec. And as I have said time and time again, promise to legalize marijuana, for one, and force Stephen Harper into defending an intellectually bankrupt prohibitionist along with Bush administration and James Dobson. Every bad word from Dobson and Bush is a free ad time as far as the Liberals would be concerned. What seals the deal is that unlike opposition to SSM employed by Karl Rove in the States, legalizing marijuana is a good politics because in the long term it is the right thing to do and as such a good long term play.

Kyoto represents one of the failings of the Martin government. Martin was not entirely to blame. The opposition successfully saddled Martin with Chrétien’s poor environmental record even when Martin’s financial commitments to Kyoto were quite substantial. Where the Martin government fell down was that Martin’s environmental policy depended upon the public understanding Kyoto. They did not and quite frankly never will. The same thing can be said about Global warming. It is an abstract concept and one that probably appeals to many Canadians in winter. Moreover, as with SSM, Martin emphasized not the merits of Kyoto, but Canada’s Kyoto obligations. I image many Canadians recalled their mothers urging them to eat their broccoli as homage to the starving kids in Africa whenever they heard Martin talking about Canada’s Kyoto obligations.

Kyoto is important yes, but the Liberals have quite a bit of leg work before it can become a burning issue. What the Liberals need to do is they need to draw out the immediate to long term consequences of smog, say. In order to sufficiently appeal to Canadians the Liberals need to forget about thinking globally and focus locally.

Vancouver and Toronto should be two of the focal points. Vancouver is rightly regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, the ocean and the Mountains being its two biggest selling points. However every summer brings more smog and the view of the North Shore Mountains becomes a little less stunning. If this continues, there will be potentially huge long term consequences for Vancouver’s tourist industry to mention just one. This point can brought home by juxtaposing older clear pictures of mountains of Santiago Chili and LA with newer ones taken from the same vantage point showing them obscured by smog.

As for Toronto, the emphasis should be on how air pollution is affecting the daily lives of people who live there. How many smog days are there? What is the impact on the cities most vulnerable? As with Vancouver, juxtaposing older and newer pictures of cities aboard should be used. Pictures of people in Tokyo; the older ones showing people walking around without masks and the newer ones of people walking around wearing masks, should hit home. Two pictures of the same person would be good.