Pubdate: Mon, 19 Dec 2016
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Geoffrey Stevens
Page: A9


"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven

- - Robert Browning

One thing the Trudeau government cannot be accused of is lack of
reach. Its ambitions have carried it into endeavours the Harper
government did not attempt to reach or had no interest in reaching.

These range from climate change to a process of reconciliation with
First Nations … from Senate reform to a shift of some of the tax
burden from middle-to high-income earners … from the appointment of a
gender-equal cabinet to increased consultation with the provinces …
and from overhaul of the electoral system to the legalization of marijuana.

According to one scorecard, the Liberals made no fewer than 214
promises in the 2015 election campaign. That's quite a reach.

The opposition parties have been happily hammering away at Trudeau for
his broken promises. As parliamentary tactics go, that's predictable.
Some of the Liberal promises have been kept and some have not, while
many - perhaps most - are still somewhere in the works.

In at least one case - electoral reform - the government's reach seems
clearly to have exceeded its grasp. The same, I suspect, may prove to
be true with the legalization of marijuana.

Both issues require the existence of national consensus.

To start with electoral reform, Trudeau rashly promised to replace the
first-past-the-post system of electing members of Parliament in time
for the next election. But replace it with what? There is no
consensus. As the Commons special committee learned, people prefer
FPTP to any of the leading proportional or preferential ballot

With this lack of consensus, if the Liberals were to hold a
referendum, as the opposition parties demand, the verdict would almost
certainly be to stay with FPTP - to do nothing.

Trudeau's reach may also exceed his grasp when it comes to the
legalization of marijuana. It was another of his election pledges. The
government has promised to introduce legislation this spring with a
view to having a new pot regime in place by 2019. Why? I am not going
to argue for or against legalization. Personally, I don't much care.

I know young people who fervently favour making cannabis legal for
personal consumption; they may well have voted Liberal last year on
the strength of that promise.

But I also know older people who are just as firmly against, and many
who, like me, don't care one way or the other.

If there were a referendum, I suspect the "Nos" and "Don't Cares"
would outnumber the "Yes" tally.

In the absence of a broad public will, or consensus, the Trudeau
government and those provinces that opt to get in on the potentially
lucrative distribution of legal pot, will have to accept the political
fallout when things go wrong, as they inevitably will.

There are too many questions.

What will the legal age for possession be? Will it be 18, as the
federal task force recommended last week? Or will it be the same as
the drinking age in each province?

Some medical experts told the task force that marijuana can have
harmful effects on the brains of youths; they recommend a minimum age
of 21 or even 25. How about toking and driving? How will pot be sold?
Some provinces would like to distribute it through their liquor stores
(which strikes me as a bad idea). Some advocates say pharmacies should
sell recreational marijuana along with the medical variety (an even
worse idea, in my view).

And a whole industry of marijuana growers and vendors is already
pawing at the gates of Parliament Hill to get in on the bonanza the
instant the stuff becomes legal.

Are we ready for this modern-day gold rush?

Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa 
columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political 
science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. His 
column appears Mondays. He welcomes comments at  ---
MAP posted-by: Matt