Liberals now seem to recognize that they can not lessen the popularity of the Conservative crime agenda by falling in line behind the Conservatives. So what are they doing about it?
Well, at first blush it appears that have tried to put the subject in a different light. The Liberals have reminded the public that "US style mega- prisons" come at a cost and questioned just how Canadian such policies truly are. "Canadians know that spending billions of dollars on US-style mega-prisons to lock up young people will only produce more hardened criminals. It’s a failed American crime policy, and it just doesn’t work."
Such an approach is really a non starter though and that is why I think the Liberals are up to something else. In words of great voting behavior researcher Philip Converse, the vast majority of voters show a lack of “constraint”: That is, they hold incompatible beliefs. Many voters simply do not recognize that tough on crime measures necessitate the building of "mega-prisons". If asked, they will say that they support the former but disagree with the later. In other words, however popular such denunciations of "mega prisons" might be it is not likely such talk will do anything to arrest the popularity of the Conservatives tough on crime agenda.
The Liberals know this of course. Indeed, that probably explains why the Liberals denounce "mega-prisons", but do not promise to scarp the Tory policies that necessitate the building of these "mega prisons". The Liberals seem content to take way whatever the get from talk of "mega prisons" and otherwise take their lumps.
That is a mistake. This is what they should have done
First, the Liberals needed to quit talking about how criminals are sentenced and draw attention law itself. Second, they needed to pick an hot button issue that would draw starve the Tory agenda of any oxygen.
Now settling on a hot button issue you need to find one that have support of sizable chunk of the population. Something that is supported by only 10 to 20% of the population is non starter. Beyond that though what you what you really looking for in a hot button issue is one in which the arguments for one position are way stronger than the other side and the public has the capability of understanding them. After all, hot button issues generate a lot of press. You get all this and you have a perfect storm. Your opponent may start off with most of the public on his side but if his talking points are savaged by the media and an informed public over a long period of time, he is going to hurt in the polls. The more prominent or controversial the issue the worse it gets.
SSM is a good example. The population was spilt on the issue but likely voters were solidly yet against it. However, even though the Liberals had been rocked by the Gomery inquiry findings in the spring of 2005 and slipped below 30% in the polls, with SSM debate dominating the headlines over the next few months the Liberals surged to 38 percent by the time SSM came into law. Meanwhile, Stephen Harper was dressing up like one of the Village People and many pundits were writing him off. It is the process not the polls that really mattered and the Conservatives where on the wrong side of history. Their position was morally and legally bankrupt. The arguments against SSM sucked and the media let them know this.
Legalizing marijuana holds that same promise.
Polls consistently show that the Canadian public supports the legalization of marijuana by a wide margin. So the public is receptive to the idea already. However what really matters is the arguments for legalizing marijuana are far more robust than the arguments keeping it illegal. Indeed, the later are often so bad as to have earned the name "reefer madness". The policy's potential lies in the cost to the Conservatives of having their "reefer madness" talking points savaged by the media and the informed public an for extended period of time.