Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Liberals, Conservatives and Law and Order Issues

The political advantage the Conservatives get from justice issues is not from their being major differences between the major parties, but from other factors. One such factor is the very subject being debated. As Tom Flanagan crowed after the 2006 election, there are certain issues that favour the Conservatives and the economy is one. No matter how successful the Liberals were in balancing the books and creating jobs, Conservative research suggested that when it came to economics people trusted the Conservatives more than they did the Liberals. It not much of leap to suggest the same is true for crime. After all, to presume that the public has a working knowledge of each party's justice policies is giving the public way too much credit; the public trades in stereotypes and they are always going to believe that Conservatives are tougher. This is especially so now. The Conservatives are in power and while 'tougher' crime measures grab headlines, Liberal support for those measures does not. To add insult to injury even if the Liberals were able to convince Canadians that they support all Conservative measures, and I very much doubt that they can, the Conservatives have argued and will continue to argue that Liberals had ability to introduce such policies when they were in power and failed to do so. In sum, sentencing measures, are a loosing proposition for the Liberals and following in line will not stop the bleeding. The public discourse is not evidence based.

So what can the Liberals do when it comes to justice issues. They have to change the debate to one about sentencing to one based on the law itself. This always ignites debate; for in marked contrast to sentencing issues, were the public's profound ignorance and dogmatism crowds out any debate, the public loves discussing such issues. Doing so also changes the political dynamics; the Liberals go from looking weak to looking edgy and the Conservatives go from looking tough to looking regressive. Trudeau's Omnibus bill was edgy; SSM was edgy. Of course this presupposes that there are issues that the Liberals can throw their support behind and not get killed politically. Luckily for the Liberals there are two. The first one is euthanasia and the if the Liberals are so thick as to not throw their weight behind Quebec doctors, they deserve to loose the next election. This one is a no brainier. The other one is an issue I have been harping on for years and that is the legalization of marijuana.

Now whenever I have suggested such a position before I have been greeted by a scores of Liberals suggesting that decrimalization and not legalization is the way to go. My answer as always been the same. There is no political benefit to merely decriminalizing marijuana; among other things, it is just not that edgy and it does not break open the libertarian social conservative divide. Furthermore, the Liberals really need to take a stand. They can not continue to straddle both sides of political divide. When it comes to marijuana for example their position on possession has been pretty lax since Chretein quipped that he would have a joint in one hand and the money for his fine in other. At the same time, they have been ever more supportive of tougher penalties for drug trafficking . To say that such stances are mutually inconsistent would be an understatement. How can consuming a joint be no worse than speeding and something virtually every Liberal leader can laugh about but passing one worthy of a year in jail?

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