Pubdate: Mon, 18 Mar 2002
Source: Sudbury Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The Sudbury Star
Author: CP


One Jokes He Has Yet To Exhale

TORONTO - Three of five candidates vying to replace Premier Mike Harris for 
leadership of Ontario's law-and-order Conservative party say they've smoked 
pot - and one even joked he's yet to exhale.

It's an admission that might once have caused political ambitions to go up 
in smoke, but attitudes both about the use of marijuana and expectations 
about honesty from politicians appear to have changed the situation.

"Only at Argo (football) games ... when you had to," said Ernie Eves, 55, 
breaking into uproarious laughter when questioned about his marijuana use. 
"There were some pretty tough years in the Argonauts history ... oh, 
jeepers ... That was back when I was in university."

It only happened on "one or two occasions," said Eves, who many predict 
will win the race to replace Harris on Saturday.

"It didn't do anything for me. Watching the football was bad enough."

But rival candidate Jim Flaherty, the finance minister who made a name for 
himself as attorney general pushing his tough-on-crime agenda and cracking 
down on squeegee kids, has also toked.

"Yeah, in my teenage years," said Flaherty, 52. "A couple of times."

But, Flaherty added quickly, it was a walk on the wild side that didn't 
last very long.

"I have to admit: I didn't like it," he said.

A national Leger Marketing poll conducted for the Canadian Press last year 
found 38 per cent of Canadian adults had tried pot, while 47 per cent 
supported legalization.

That might explain why politicians might be feeling less inclined to dodge 
the question or lie about past pot use.

"Soft drugs are becoming more acceptable within our society," said Dave 
Scholz, a vice-president with Leger.

"Even alcohol abuse is considered worse."

Still, two of the Tory candidates deny ever smoking up.

One is Tony Clement, the health minister, who has made much of the fact 
that he's the youngest of the candidates at age 41 and stands for the "next 
generation of ideas."

"Not even a cigarette," said Clement, known even by supporters to be more 
of an egghead than a pothead despite his propensity for renegade rock 
music. "It's true," he added. "I'm not controversial."

While Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer, 55, might be known as the opiate of 
Ontario politics for her low-key, even soporific style, she also denied 
ever dabbling with marijuana.

"No, I haven't," said Witmer, laughing. "Never, ever! Sorry. I've never had 
any desire to do so."

But Labour Minister Chris Stockwell, 45, who is known for enjoying a good 
party, had to think when asked.

"I never exhaled," Stockwell responded in a nod to former U.S. president 
Bill Clinton's famous and widely ridiculed assertion that he had smoked 
marijuana - but never inhaled.

Stockwell reconsidered.

"Yes, sure, when I was in school I did," he said.

And besides, he said - no one would believe him if he denied it.
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