Thursday, September 28, 2006

Liberal Martha Hall Findlay Favors Legalization of Marijuana and Public Dental Care

I emailed out the following survey to all Liberal candidates. Martha Hall Findlay is the only one to respond thus far. The questions are in bold, her answers in full highlighted. I have responded to some. Most of her answers are fairly par for the course, but there are a few that are really interesting.

1) A hypothetical: If a vote on Afghan mission was held today and there had been rigorous debate on the subject, would you vote to extend the mission through 2009?

Only if (i) in the process of the debate I was persuaded, with all of the relevant facts, that this was the right decision; and (ii) in conjunction with a domestic debate, we also engaged with our NATO and UN partners in a thorough review of the circumstances, of what our REAL goals in Afghanistan are, whether those goals are in fact achievable, and if so, how---and in the course of that debate we also determined that it was the right thing to do.

I was trying to avoid the debate fig leaf answer, but alas to no avail. Anyway, it is not unreasonable to expect Liberal candidates to have an opinion one way or the other. They can not hide behind there was no debate so I do not have opinion on the matter forever. Of course, one may rethink one’s position if new evidence or arguments come to light.

2) Suppose next spring there was no let up in the number of Taliban attacks and in the number of Canadians dying, would you call for an end to the mission?

My answer to this follows on my answer to #1. We need to have a full review and analysis, not only domestically but also with our NATO and UN partners, to determine goals, and if they are achievable, then how we can best achieve them. In making this commitment, Canada knew, and knows, that it is and will continue to be difficult, and that lives will be lost. If that decision is made appropriately, given all of the facts and review, then we must not simply pull up and away from our commitment when things get tough. My father landed on D-Day and helped liberate Holland in WW II. If we Canadians decide that something is important and worth doing, then we do it, even when it's tough.

3) Given that Al Qaeda has singled Canada out because of our presence in Afghanistan and given that the alleged motivation of the Ontario 17 was our presence in Afghanistan , does our presence in Afghanistan make it more likely that Canada will be attacked by terrorists, home grown or otherwise?

I'm not sure that Canada is being "singled out" by Al Qaeda, given the presence of a significant number of NATO members in Afghanistan . However, the chances of increased threat is possible, and one of the many factors that I would insist on considering in that full and thorough review, with our NATO partners, that I'm calling for. Again, though---if it's the right decision, properly arrived at considering all of the factors, then we don't shrink from taking the right action because of fear.

Personally I do not think there is any doubt. Canada is more likely to be attacked because of our presence in Afghanistan . I dare say I am not alone in this regard.
“When asked about the likelihood of Canada being a terror target because of its military presence in Afghanistan , 56 per cent said we are more likely to be attacked.

This represents an increase of 18 per cent compared to one year ago. Thirty-four per cent say the military presence has no bearing; while five per cent say having soldiers in Afghanistan make us less susceptible to an attack."

As for Al Qaeda, right wing commentators take a perverse delight in noting that Al Qaeda has singled Canada out for attack. They see it as proof that Canadians are hopelessly naïve not to whole heartedly support the war on terror. What they fail to note, however, and this is testament to their complete lack of intellectual honesty, is why Al Qaeda singled Canada out for attack. Canada was singled out because of our presence in Afghanistan.

“What do your governments want from their alliance with America in attacking us in Afghanistan? I mention in particular Britain , France , Italy , Canada , Germany and Australia .

We warned Australia before not to join in the war in Afghanistan , and against its despicable effort to separate East Timor . It ignored the warning until it woke up to the sounds of explosions in Bali."

That being said the greater threat comes not from Al Qaeda per say, but from so called home grown terrorists.

All this begs the question is the increased likelihood of attack a reason for getting out of Afghanistan? I do not think anyone would claim it is a sufficient reason. However, given the futility of the mission, its cost both in human and financial terms and how little Canadian interests are furthered by our being there, it is reason enough.

4) Can NATO succeed in both stabilizing Afghanistan and destroying the country's number one industry?

I'm not sure which industry you believe is Afghanistan 's #1. If you mean the harbouring of terrorists and the growth of terrorism, then my answer is, unfortunately, that I don't know. That would be part of that larger, full review---a key component of those discussions would, of course, be whether that is an achievable goal. It is certainly one of the goals now, but whether it is achievable has come under some debate. If, however, you are referring to the opium trade, it's a different answer. I'm not sure that we should be so quick to insist on the destruction of the poppy crop. Western society is, after all, the biggest consumer of opiates. Suggesting a switch to other crops, such as corn, disregards the economic realities of corn being a crop that cannot earn nearly as much money, particularly when markets (including our own and those of the US and Europe ) are so subsidized and so protected. One alternative might be for the world to agree to pay decent prices for the crops for use in medicinal opiates, morphine for example, which is in fact in short supply.

I should have specified that I meant the opium crop, but is harbouring terrorists really an industry?


5) Does it make any sense to on the one hand decriminalize marijuana possession under the guise that current punishments are far out of proportion to the act while on the hand increasing the penalties for trafficking?

No. Prohibition didn't work for alcohol---it only spawned tremendous crime, some of it violent. We are seeing exactly the same thing with marijuana. There is an interesting study by the Fraser Institute ( which suggests that continued criminalization of marijuana does not make sense—for the same reasons that prohibition didn't work for alcohol.

It should be noted that this is a rejection of official Liberal policy.

6) Are concerns about so called "potent pot" valid?

Yes, but the concerns would be more easily addressed if, with some legalization, the product could be properly controlled.

I disagree; the evidence that today’s pot is substantially stronger than the pot of old rests on pretty shaky ground.

Moreover, even if it were true, saying that potent pot is reason for keeping marijuana illegal is akin to saying that alcohol should be banned because gin has higher alcohol content than beer. Indeed, if anything potent pot should be welcomed. After all, the most prominent health effect related to marijuana is that it is usually smoked. The more potent the pot, the less people have to smoke to achieve the same high.

All that being said, MHF is using the de jour argument against marijuana legalization against the drug warriors. She is arguing that if potent pot is as much as a concern as they say it is, keeping it illegal makes the situation worse and not better. The potency of pot can be insured if regulated and it can only be regulated if legal.

7) The Senate committee on marijuana concluded that the "Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol"? Do you agree with this conclusion?

Ok I think there is enough here to out MHF as a supporter of legalization.

Vacation Time

8) Canada lags behind far behind virtually every other Western nation in terms of the number vacation days its citizens are guaranteed. Is it time that Canada bridge the vacation gap?

EU minimum is 4 weeks
Switzerland 4 weeks
New Zealand 4 weeks (starting in 2007)
Norway 5 weeks

It is something worth reviewing, but it must be done in consideration of overall productivity, costs of employment for employers, and compensation for employees. There are interesting studies that show that with a bit more time off, people can in fact be more productive during the hours actually working.

My attitude is that if the entire Western world, minus the US can do it, so can we.


9) Should Canada pass an euthanasia law, a la Holland ?

A very tough question. If we were to consider it, we would of course require incredibly strong parameters and controls. My preference is to educate more people on the benefits of living wills and let them make their own decisions about who might decide, when, not to resuscitate.

Passive euthanasia, (e.g., dehydration) is already a reality in Canada and is extremely common. All the proponents of most common form of legalized euthanasia are calling for is for option of making some of those passive cases active.

Dental care

10) Other Western countries (e.g., Germany, Finland and Britain)have public dental care. Should Canada?

Certain basic dental procedures should be considered as part of an overall health care plan. A lot of Canadians do not have access to dental insurance.

I am boarding the bus.


11) Given his support for "Empire Lite", does Ignatieff have the potential to be as divisive a figure within the party as Tony Blair has become within his party?

Mr. Ignatieff and I disagree on a number of issues, but agree on many others. On the former, I would prefer to disagree, and engage in the vigorous discussion necessary for truly effective policy development with someone who holds views that are different than mine, but holds them honestly, than to agree with someone whose views are more politically expedient than honest.

This was not what I asked, but it was unreasonable to expect her to answer. Ignatieff has the potential to rip the party apart, a la Tony Blair; he also has to potential to good leader a la Tony Blair.

Heroin Maintenance

12) Do you support a proposed heroin maintenance program for Vancouver?

I am a full supporter of the Insite site in Vancouver.

The heroin maintenance and Insite are two different things. Insite is Vancouver’s safe injection site. Vancouver ’s heroin maintenance program involves, as should be obvious, giving a group of identified addicts heroin. The evidence for the effectiveness of both is overwhelming.


13) Name the last 4 books you have read.

Andrew Cohen's "While Canada Slept"
Roy MacGregor 's "The Dog and I"
Andre Pratte's "Aux Pays des Merveilles"
Harry Frankfurt's "On Bullshit"

I have only read Frankfurt ’s “On Bullshit”; I liked it.


14) Name the last 2 movies you have seen.

United 93

Both are excellent.


15) What was the first car you owned?

An old milk truck (the kind with the sliding doors) that had been converted into a camper—panelled in pine with an old black wood burning stove and stove pipe out the roof. My second car was a second-hand Toyota pick-up.

My Pet Policy Idea

16) In order to attract more international grad students and just as importantly keep a higher percentage of international grad students in country after they graduate, Canada should offer citizenship to those foreign graduate students who complete a graduate degree from, and this important, a public Canadian university. Does this idea have any merit?

Yes, it has merit---it should be considered as part of a larger, but immediately needed review of our immigration point system. We'd like to encourage a reverse brain drain, but (as just one example) we also have thousands and thousands of people working here in the construction trades, illegally, because although we clearly need their skills, the point system doesn't recognize it.

I know I know; it was nasty to ask this question. She is not in a position to say that this is the dumbest idea she has ever come across. That said, I would like to ignore that fact; in fact, my head feels bigger already.

Many Thanks to Martha Hall Findlay for taking the time and for having the courage to take the survey.

Meeting Michael Ignatieff

I met Ignatieff. He is not as tall as I thought. He is around 6 foot to 6, 1. He is slight and his posture is bad. His narrow shoulders, his tendency to hold his hands tightly by his side and his poor posture extenuate his head. The way he holds himself physically seems to reflect his intensely introspective nature. This might sound odd, but if he was to become the next leader of the party, the party should see to it that he see a personal trainer. A good trainer will open his body up and metaphorically open him up to the Canadian people. If nothing else if he was to develop his lats, he would be less inclined to hold his arms so tight against his body and would instead spread them wider. This is would give his gesticulations a less tortured feel.

His first words to me and to those around me was to explain why he was wearing makeup. He said that he was made up for television not because he choice too, but because that is just what it is done. He mentioned this later too. He was right to mention it. It was quite noticeable. I presume he just did not have the time to take it off.

Once Ignatieff had made the rounds and we had all sang happy birthday to Sukh Dhaliwal, Ignatieff made his case for why he should be the next Liberal leader. It was obvious that he is comfortable in front of crowd, has a superb grasp of the English language and that his breath of learning and wealth of experience is great. His opening marks about the diversity in the Lowermainland were well laid out. They came off as intelligent observations of a seasoned traveler and not as pandering.

Ignatieff focused on three areas the environment, Immigration and Native issues. He first talked about his environment platform and of the three this was the best thought out and he had little trouble answering questions about it later. Of all the Liberal candidates his environmental platform appeals to me the most; those who argue that only carrots will do the trick are dreaming; some sticks are needed too; there needs to be a carbon tax.

The next area he hit on was immigration. His comments were all over the place and where not sufficiently underpinned by a well thought out argument. They seemed more like unconnected musings, however well informed, than well thought out policy. His views on family unification, for example, were, well, different. Indeed, no matter how nice it would be to let every adult immigrant to Canada bring their parents here, from a policy point of view, the idea makes little sense. The road to hell is paved with good intensions. The average immigrant to Canada is slightly older than your average Canadian. Needless to say, we should work to make the reverse true. After all, one of the primary justifications for high levels of immigration is that we need more immigrants to prevent a pension and health care crisis caused by a disproportionate number of baby boomers in the Canadian population. Allowing huge number of immigrant baby boomers only makes the problem worse – much worse.

That said, it was clear that Ignatieff opinions on the matter have been shaped in no small measure by his time in office and that he is someone who takes the concerns people bring to him very seriously. I am sure he was right in saying that 80% of what he does as MP relates to immigration; Speaking from personal experience, under funding and under staffing of Canada’s immigration department and its foreign embassies means that urban MPs have to pick up the slack and sometimes the pieces. It was nice to hear a politician acknowledge that the immigration system is massively under funded. I was also encouraged when he said that Canada needs more immigrants than what we are currently letting in. We do, but we need them to be younger.

Next on the agenda was Native self government and related topics, but before I elaborate I have a confession. In my opinion, Native self government may be the dumbest idea, from a policy perspective, the Liberals have ever championed. Furthermore, although some Liberal strategists might think that pandering to natives is a hinterland strategy that will lead to more Merasty miracles, this will only provide the Conservatives with all the benefits of a Willie Horton strategy in those aforementioned hinterlands without the running the danger of actually employing one. Ignatieff comments centered on wanting to make amends for past racist policies, wanting to increase the number of Native students in university and how impressed he was with the new crop of Native leaders. It was liberalism at its mushy guilt ridden worst.

Afterwards, Ignatieff answered questions from the gallery. One concerned Afghanistan. Another concerned the economic wisdom of his environmental policies in light of the fact that Washington is unwilling to adopt Kyoto. His answers were a study in contrasts. In answering the environmental question Ignatieff mentioned that properly crafted regulations would help incentivevize Canada’s oil and gas industry into becoming a world leader in producing greener technology; in the long term this would benefit Canada economically and not hurt it. In other words he gave a reasoned response. Conversely, when asked about Afghanistan he studiously avoided two areas people want to him to address: 1) is the mission doable? 2) How does Canada benefit from being there? Instead he assured us that the Taliban were awful people and implied that going to Afghanistan gave him some epistemic insight that others who have not been there have not had. It was an argument from authority and one I found it off putting. I know of no one who harbors any illusions about who the Taliban are. However there are those of us who are convinced that leaving is the lesser of two evils and Ignatieff needs to address our arguments.

I did not want to flog a dead hoarse that is Iraq, but just before Ignatieff left for the airport I had a chance to ask him about his Kurdish talking point he goes with whenever the subject of Iraq comes up and so went with it. For example :

“Q: What do you tell Liberal delegates who ask why you thought it right to support George Bush in Iraq when the Liberal Party of Canada had decided it would not?

A: What I say is, they have to understand what I saw in Iraq in 1992. I have been a human rights reporter and you get scorched by what you see. I saw what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds in 1992 and I decided there and then that I would stand with these people no matter what happens. And I've done so ever since.”

Given that Kurdistan has been a de facto independent state since 1992, I asked him why he thought the plight of the Kurds in 2003 was a compelling reason for regime change. He rehashed his all his reasons for going to war and so did really answer the question. I hope for his sake that he abandons this talking point before Dion and Rae force feed him the illogic of it.

If Ignatieff is going to hold off Dion and Rae, he is going to have to cry uncle on Iraq. In so doing, he is going to have come up with a different argument for why we should be in Afghanistan. His humanitarian argument for why we should be in Afghanistan inevitably bleeds back into his humanitarian argument for why he supported the Iraq war; that inevitably puts him in a world of hurt.
Not only is Ignatieff’s Kurdish talking point is fatally flawed, but Ignatieff decision to go only with his humanitarian argument with regard to Iraq has made things worse not and better. His only substantive argument for why we should be in Afghanistan is a humanitarian one and this argument inevitably bleeds back into his humanitarian argument for why he supported the Iraq war; that inevitably puts him in a world of hurt. Indeed, as any possible US target is going to have a less than stellar human rights record Ignatieff plays into the hands of those who charge that he would commit Canada to whatever Washington dreams up, albeit for different reasons. Ignatieff needs to cry uncle on Iraq and explain how the two missions are different.

His past attempts to distance himself from Iraq did not exactly bare fruit. Indeed the reasons he gave for why he would not have sent troops to Iraq apply just as readily to Afghanistan . Two in particular come to mind.

1) Ignatieff said that support of the population was vital and population did not support the Iraq mission. However, polls suggest that extending the mission has no better than support of half the population and polls showed at the time of the May vote that strong majority of Canadians were opposed to extending the mission.

2) Ignatieff claimed that a potential national unity crisis was reason enough for staying out of the Iraq war. That said, a terrorist attack, inspired by Canada 's presence in Afghanistan , could spilt the country apart, especially if Quebec is the victim. Currently the Afghan mission is opposed by what 70% of Quebecers. If Quebecers die as a result of us being there, the separatists will use it as a reason why Quebecers need their own country with its own foreign policy. Given what has just transpired in Ontario, and the fact that the accused were said to be motivated by Canada's role in Afghanistan and what happened in Spain and Britain, Ignatieff can not very well claim that chances of such an attack or not insignificant.

Ignatieff often says that he will hold Harper’s feet to the fire should he change the nature of the Afghan mission. However he does not say just what consequences are in store for Harper if he drifts off course. No one seriously believes, especially in light his refusal to cry uncle on Iraq, that Ignatieff would stop supporting the mission, for example. Furthermore as he came to power only in January he is only associated, rightly or wrongly, only with the Conservative mission. All told, the comment seems a throwaway aimed at placating his Afghan critics. What he desperately needs to do is this: He needs to sketch out the point at which he would consider abandoning the mission. This is not as daunting as it first seems. I would suggest he could change his benchmarks for success into reasons for reconsidering the mission.

"Q What are your benchmarks for Canadian success in Afghanistan?

A The Taliban offensive will probably run out of gas as the winter season comes. These things are seasonal. One benchmark of success is if we don't get a resumption next spring. If it comes back gangbusters in April '07, we do have a problem. The second benchmark is just intelligence co-operation. Are villagers helping us? Our moral legitimacy depends on us believing we are their friends and the Taliban their enemies. If we start to lose intelligence co-operation and help, that's a pretty good benchmark that something has gone badly wrong in our relationship.”

Overall impressions: Ignatieff says that Canada is a serious country and Canadians are serious people. I would like Ignatieff to name which countries are not. Anyway, Ignatieff needs to be less serious. Canadians might be “serious” people, but the liberal minded of us dream of doing a pirouette or two behind the Queen’s back. Ignatieff is often compared to Trudeau, but a better comparison is Ken Dryden. Ignatieff is serious, kind, considerate and empathic and is entirely undeserving of some of the attacks made on his character. He is, if nothing else, a good person. However, if Ignatieff is going to win, he is going to have to find in himself some of Trudeau’s swagger. Incidentally, Rae seems to be the only candidate right now with any sort of swagger. Failing that, perhaps Ignatieff could get away with championing a sexy, advant guard and largely peripheral issue. Those who know me know that I think the legalization of marijuana is such an issue.