By Amie Gravell
Coming May 2, 2011. Canada will undergo its fourth election in seven years. Whatever one believes about the worth of another election, we can remain on the positive side and choose to see it as a chance to effect a more likable change in our leadership than last election (which of course was no change). Elections should move us towards what we want, or at least (for most people in Canada it seems) away from what we do not want. The most important thing to do is vote, and get your friends and family to vote as well. Voter turnout has been steadily decreasing since 1979—in the 2008 election, only 58.8 percent of people cast their votes. Almost half of Canadians didn’t vote, which means that your vote is worth almost double if we trust statistics. So be sure to vote. You can find out where to vote, how to vote, if you’re registered to vote, and what candidates are in your area by going to <www.elections.ca> This website is operated by the Government of Canada, and has countless other resources not mentioned.
Canada has 19 registered political parties, many of them don’t have candidates in most ridings—you can find out about them at <www.elections.ca> For simplicity’s sake, we’ll go over the main ones: The Conservative Party, The Liberal Party, The NDP, and The Green Party. (We’ve left out the Bloc Québécois because geographical constraints focus their attention on the eastern side of the country.) We’ll also cover the Marijuana Party of Canada, for obvious reasons.
The Conservative Party of Canada, lead by Stephen Harper, is notoriously unfriendly to marijuana users. They don’t seem to see the difference between various types of drugs and choose to lump marijuana users into the same category as users of heroin, crystal meth, and other hard drugs. In addition to their poor view of marijuana users, the Conservative Party (perhaps because it views marijuana as a “hard” drug akin to heroin) seems to view marijuana legalization as the legalization of all drugs. Cannabis users should feel targeted by the Conservative Party—and that is not a case of paranoia. The Conservative Party’s drug policy rarely mentions drugs other than marijuana and includes mandatory minimum prison sentences, national awareness campaigns, and specifically shooting down any attempt to legalize or decriminalize marijuana.
The Liberal Party of Canada, lead by Michael Ignatieff, doesn’t spell out its drug policy in a single place that is easy to access. However, the Liberals have many positive actions towards marijuana reform that cannot be overlooked. Most recently, Liberals opposed bill S-10, which would have put countless individuals in jail with a mandatory minimum prison sentence for a handful of marijuana plants. They did this because of mounting prison costs and a lack of differentiation between “hardened criminals” and misguided youth. The Liberal Party has also brought forth decriminalization on their agenda. Though nothing has been said recently, in Sept. 2010, Ignatieff told a crowd of people that his party would bring back a bill to eliminate criminal penalties for possession of under 15 grams of cannabis and replace them with fines. While this isn’t everyone’s pipe dream, it is a step (albeit a small one) in the right direction.
The NDP Party, lead by Jack Layton, also opposed Bill S-10, for different reasons than the Liberal Party did. The NDP has stated that they oppose policy that mirrors the failed “war on drugs” style U.S. inspired legislation. Time has yet to tell whether the NDP will make marijuana reform part of their platform for this election, though they included it in their 2004 platform, it was excluded in both 2006 and 2008. However, the NDP has demonstrated that they do know the difference between crystal meth and marijuana. The only sad thing about the NDP’s policy on marijuana is that it ends up coming out discombobulated sometimes. The NDP runs into problems expressing its drug policy because the party isn’t always on the same page for a variety of reasons: wishing greater appeal to a wider demographic, personal opinion, and likely a small amount of fear.
The Conservative Party often uses their opponent’s policy on drugs as a campaign tactic against them. Though both the Liberal Party and the NDP Party do seem committed to (at least) not continuing on the path that the United States has laid out in the “war on drugs,” there is a level of political uncertainty to out right supporting marijuana (for some reason). Both parties seem unwilling to completely come out with a definitive positive position on marijuana, but it should be acknowledged that the NDP is far more progressive towards marijuana reform than the Liberal Party.
The Green Party, lead by Elizabeth May, has previously shown itself to be both well educated on marijuana and looked toward positive marijuana reform. Though there are disagreements between members of the party about marijuana reform, as there are in all parties regarding all issues, the party as a whole has remained committed to ending the war on drugs with a legalization, regulation, education and taxation model. Whether ending the war on drugs will hit the Green Party campaign platform for the 2011 election or not, only time will tell.
Finally, the Marijuana Party, lead by M. Blair T. Longley. The most progressive party by far on marijuana reform. Whether that has anything to do with the absence of other issues on their platform or not isn’t exactly what we’re looking into with this article. The Marijuana Party has come out in strong opposition to bill S-10 (previously Bill C-15). The party’s policies are short and sweet: Legalize marijuana, legalize revolution. Both policies are easy to get behind, but it seems harder to commit to voting for, as the Marijuana Party gets less than one percent of the popular vote.
Paying attention to voting trends is crucial to strategic voting, which is a method of choosing a local candidate based on which national party you wish to keep from winning. There are merits to strategic voting, but it requires research into the voting trends in your area. If the party most likely to win more seats nationally than your desired ‘loser party’ doesn’t have a strong candidate in your riding, it will not do much strategic good to vote for that party. Example: In the Nanaimo-Cowichan riding, there is little to no Liberal presence, but a strong run between the NDP and the Conservative Party. Voting for a Liberal candidate (sometimes not actually present) would do little to help one’s efforts if they wished either that the NDP or Conservative Parties would lose.
Strategic voting is not idealistic, but it is a tactic that many resort to. It brings forth many issues though. Not the least of which, what if you like your local candidate, but hate their party? This is a problem with Canadian politics that should someday be addressed. There is no simple answer. Your choices are your choices, the only thing that you can do is be as informed as possible about your decision.
Happy voting, and don’t let the election season get you down.
By Amie Gravell