Canadians are bracing for a cannabis effect in cross-border trade and law enforcement after the landslide defeat of Prime Minister Stephen Harper Monday.
Conservative Harper was defeated by Liberal Justin Trudeau, an amateur boxer and eldest son of the late Pierre Trudeau, a four-term prime minister.
Harper’s Tories lost heavily in the Great White North’s Parliament. The Conservative Party’s seat count fell from 159 seats to 99 seats in the House of Commons, with several recounts still to go. In the province of Quebec, the separatist Bloc
Québécois also staged a minor comeback, taking 10 seats.
The 43-year-old victor is very passionate about marijuana legalization. He is also likely to change Canadian policies on taxes, trade, foreign policy, and the environment.
In the 78-day election, which was long by Canadian standards, Trudeau targeted both the Conservatives and the New Democratic Party, running to the outside of the New Democrats on the issue of reforming marijuana laws.
The New Democrats had long called for decriminalization followed by legalization. Trudeau attacked this as too timid, forcing New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair to insist that his party would decriminalize pot the very “minute we form government.”
NORML Canada, a usually non-partisan marijuana legalization advocacy group, dropped its electoral neutrality and endorsed the Liberals for the first time since its founding in 1978.
“Conservatives prefer the status quo and the New Democratic Party favors legalization after long research into preferred models. So [we] decided to put our eggs in the Liberal basket since, historically, they have the best chance of forming government,” NORML's executive director Craig Jones told AMI Newswire Monday.
Jones speculated that legalization would not dampen U.S.-Canada relations the way it might have in the past.
President Obama might “welcome a more liberal prime minister,” Jones said. “Canada produces some of the finest cannabis in the world.”
The NORML executive expects “a demand pull from border jurisdictions in the United States,” especially in states that have already legalized pot, such as Washington.
One prominent Harper supporter was not so sanguine about improved relations between Canada and its largest trading partner next door.
“I suspect marijuana legalization would affect cross-border trade and traffic,” Ezra Levant, founder of conservative news site The Rebel, told AMI Newswire. “Given that Washington, not the individual states, controls the borders, it would likely result in increased policing, searches, and fees.”
Levant said Canada's “leftist parties” supported legalization for political reasons, as a way to mobilize their base voters, especially young progressives. “And they want to tax it, as leftist parties always do,” Levant said.
It's not clear that pot cost Harper the election. Several polls indicated Canadians wanted some sort of decriminalization. But those polls also showed that pot was not a high priority issue for most Canadians.
The issue clearly helped mobilize younger Canucks to get out and to vote Liberal. The Liberals managed to leapfrog the New Democrats in Parliament and send Harper packing after nearly a decade as head of government. Hours after his defeat, Harper reaffirmed that he would make good on a campaign pledge and step down as leader of his party.
Critics cheered the departure. One of Trudeau's favorite phrases was that Harper’s party opposed “Canadian values.” Liberals and the New Democrats assailed Harper as a tool of business who was resistant to progressive change and callous about the environment. With a long tenure to draw on, opponents called Harper too secretive, too controlling, too militaristic, and - the ultimate Canadian insult - too American.
A Trudeau skeptic says Harper's record since he took over in 2006 “is a record of conservative achievement” that might be hard for the Liberals to efface any time soon.
“Despite some large deficits in the midst of the great recession, [the Conservative Party under Harper] opened up Canada for business,” Paul Tuns, author of the critical biography “The Dauphin: The Truth About Justin Trudeau,” told AMI.
Speaking late Monday night after it was clear the Conservatives had lost, Tuns said Harper “successfully challenged the assumption that Canada was a fundamentally liberal country” and proved that “a great number of Canadians hold conservative economic and social values.”