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News (Media Awareness Project) - Canada: Column: It's A Perilous - And Political - Road From
Title:Canada: Column: It's A Perilous - And Political - Road From
Published On:2012-01-17
Source:National Post (Canada)
Fetched On:2012-01-19 06:02:38

Too much is being made of Liberals voting 77% in favour, at this past
weekend's convention, to legalize marijuana. It is an excellent idea,
and the resolution ticks all the correct boxes by way of justifying
it: marijuana's widespread and safe use, revenue savings and
generation through taxation, and the fact it would make Canadians
safer from criminal violence. But the Liberals set off down this road
in government twice, and never even made it to decriminalization. This
is a non-binding resolution by a third party to do something somewhat
more ambitious than it declined to do when it was the first party.

The Liberals' second decriminalization bill died with Paul Martin's
government, and there has been near radio silence on the matter from
the leader's office ever since. Stephane Dion steered clear of the
issue. Michael Ignatieff cautiously admitted some interest in
decriminalization, though he advised an audience of high school
students in St. John's against "parking your life on the end of a
marijuana cigarette." Bob Rae opposed the legalization resolution, and
warned after its passage of "practical questions" in implementing it -
that's if he or a future leader chose to implement it, of course,
which he wouldn't have to and likely wouldn't do.

Mr. Rae's reticence is telling, considering his stated belief that the
War on Drugs is a disaster and considering the Liberals reportedly
spent much of the weekend discussing the idea of "evidence-based
policy." It's a pithy phrase designed to distinguish themselves from
the census-cancelling, criminologist-deriding, climate change-denying
Conservatives. And it's an entirely worthy goal. The problem is that
many Liberals present themselves as having already accomplished it.
Ask a Liberal MP about climate change, harm reduction, crime policy or
the long-form census, and chances are pretty good you'll hear that the
Liberals are the party of science.

"I will never knowingly allow politics to trump science," Liberal MP
and potential leadership candidate Marc Garneau wrote in September.

"Even if a particular policy position supported strongly by the
evidence is way back in the polls, what's important is a conviction to
fight for it until the public sees its truth," former Liberal MP Mark
Holland told Maclean's John Geddes over the weekend.

What absolute twaddle.

This is the party whose health critic, Ujjal Dosanjh, co-authored an
op-ed last year with fellow MP Kirsty Duncan pimping Paolo Zamboni's
liberation treatment for multiple sclerosis and demanding the
government fund clinical trials. They accused the Canadian Institutes
of Health Research of striking an expert working group that was
hopelessly biased against the Zamboni treatment, and that contained
"no experts, no experience, and many undeclared conflicts of
interests" - presumably with pharmaceutical companies, though the MPs
weren't courageous enough to specify. (Amusingly, the expert working
group ended up recommending clinical trials.)

This is a party that did nothing about climate change. But "it was not
because it didn't recognize the scientific evidence," Mr. Garneau
protested in September. The "mistake was not acting soon enough on
what [the government] knew to be the truth." The functional difference
is difficult to discern. And hang on - isn't it morally worse to do
nothing in full appreciation of the consequences than in ignorance?

This is a party that ignores the modest crime-fighting case to be made
for the long-gun registry in favour of shameless, hyper-emotional
exploitation of the Ecole Polytechnique victims and, with respect to
falling crime rates, the deliberate misrepresentation of correlation
as causation. Mr. Holland is a man who, in 2009, stood up in the House
of Commons and argued that the Conservatives should support the
registry simply because the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
supports it. "To me," he said, "the debate should end there."

For the record, I think the Conservatives are somewhat worse than the
Liberals when it comes to evidence-based policymaking. But we are
dealing with levels of badness so far beneath acceptability that the
distinction barely merits mention. In practice, the best we can likely
hope for is a return to evidence-justified policy making. As in, here
is the policy our pollster recommended, and here is some evidence we
cobbled together to justify it. Sometimes, as with crime policy, the
Conservatives don't even bother with that.

Chances are, though, that no mountain of evidence is ever going to
contradict the man from the polling company, in any party, unless and
until Canadian politics gets a lot less dumb than it is right now.
Trying to make it smarter would be a welcome and worthy goal for the
Liberals. But as Mr. Rae illustrated with his comments on marijuana,
the road from evidence to policy will always be long, perilous and
political. To pretend otherwise is to insult Canadians' intelligence.
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