OTTAWA — Federal Liberals are taking some risky departures from the cautious political norm in a bid to put their once-mighty party back on the electoral map.
Sunday, they overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for the legalization and regulation of marijuana — a position immediately endorsed in principle by interim leader Bob Rae, although it remains to be seen how, or if, the resolution translates into a platform plank for the next election.
“Let’s face up to it, Canada: The war on drugs has been a complete bust,” Rae declared in a closing speech to a three-day Liberal renewal convention.
Until now, Liberals have called only for decriminalization of marijuana, as has the NDP. The new call to legalize it completely and regulate its production and sale, much as with alcohol, is in stark contrast to the policy of the governing Conservatives, who included stiffer penalties for marijuana possession in their omnibus tough-on-crime bill.
The legalize-pot resolution came on the heels of another potentially risky gamble for the Liberals. After a heated debate late Saturday, delegates agreed to invite all liberal-minded Canadians to take part in choosing the party’s next leader.
The party will create a new class of Liberal “supporters” — anyone willing to register as believers in core Liberal values — who will not have to pay a fee for a membership card to participate in leadership contests.
Wrapping up the convention, Rae heralded the two moves as a sign the chastened Liberal party is reaching out and renewing itself after last May’s humiliating rout, when the party was reduced to a third-party rump with only 34 seats in Parliament.
“We Liberals have clearly and emphatically said to the people of Canada: ‘We embrace change and we embrace all Canadians as we rebuild this great national party.’ ”
Delegates further embraced change by choosing Mike Crawley as their new party president. He beat out Sheila Copps, a veteran former cabinet minister, who some Liberals felt symbolized the past, by a slim 26 votes.
Rae maintained the convention underscores the difference between the Liberals and the more ideologically driven Tories and NDP, whom he described as dogmatic adherents to rigid “orthodoxies.”
“If you want to be part of a group of free-thinking, innovative, thoughtful, pragmatic, hopeful, positive, happy people, come and join the Liberal party,” he exhorted, adding with a chuckle, “And after the resolution on marijuana today, it’s going to be a group of even happier people in the Liberal party.”
Rae told delegates it makes no sense “to send another generation of young people into prison” for marijuana offences when “the most addictive substances that are facing Canada today are alcohol and cigarettes.”
Though they were willing to take some risks, delegates balked at a resolution calling on Canada to consider cutting its ties to the monarchy, an idea that would open a constitutional can of worms.
Both the marijuana and monarchy resolutions were put forward by the party’s youth wing, which argued the Liberal party needs to advance bold ideas that are more reflective of young people if it is to revive.
“I think that there’s a certain amount of generational change happening in the party,” said Samuel Lavoie, president of the Liberal youth wing.
“We’re willing to push the envelope and we have the numbers and we have the willpower to flex our muscles when it’s needed.”
The marijuana resolution is not binding on the leader or party. Delegates specifically rejected a proposal to remove the leader’s veto over the contents of future election platforms, so there’s no guarantee the party will ever actually campaign on legalizing pot.
Under Jean Chretien’s government, the Liberals introduced legislation to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a ticketing, rather than criminal, offence.
The bill was not pursued when Paul Martin took over the helm of the party and the Harper government has since dropped the idea entirely, moving in the opposite direction.
Delegates also supported reforming the country’s electoral system, agreeing to promote the idea of preferential balloting in federal elections, rather than the current first-past-the-post system. Preferential ballots, in which voters rank candidates, would ensure that only those who receive more than 50 per cent of the vote in their ridings would be elected to the House of Commons.
If no one received more than half the votes right off the bat, the last-place candidate in a riding would be eliminated, with his or her supporters’ second choices then being tallied. The process would continue until one candidate emerged with more than 50 per cent.
They also endorsed a non-binding directive that all Liberal nomination contests be open, other than specified exceptions recommended by the leader and approved by the party’s national executive.
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2012 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Joan Bryden