From outside Canada, the Canadian election might have looked like an interesting or puzzling sideshow, nothing more.
But it was more than that.
This year marked the first time that marijuana politics merged with mainstream politics. In years past, federal and provincial Marijuana Party candidates received some media attention and won thousands of votes, but the Party’s achievements were seen as largely symbolic. This year, thanks largely in part to Marc Emery’s successful efforts to woo NDP leader Jack Layton, marijuana legalization was a high-profile issue, and the marijuana movement had a lot more clout with major politicians and in the media.
Buoyed by Layton’s appearance on Pot-TV and on the candidate’s resolute support of drug law reform, Emery led a nationwide effort to convince marijuana people to vote NDP. This effort paid off in actual vote numbers and in the NDP’s increased number of seats in the federal Parliament. Because the ruling Liberal Party lost seats and thus lost some of its ability to implement its governing agendas, the government has become a “minority government” which will require more debate and consensus than the previous government that was largely dominated by Liberals.
Layton’s NDP did not do as well as expected, but Layton is nevertheless being portrayed as a kingmaker by Canadian media. This is because the Liberals now need the cooperation of the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois as they seek to legislatively vanquish their main opponents, the Conservatives. Layton has already stated publicly that he intends to push the Liberals to the left on crucial issues such as marijuana legalization, trade, the environment, and relations with the United States, and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, a tired Liberal if there ever was one, has acknowledged the need to work with NDP and other parties.
Layton is the Canadian equivalent of Ralph Nader. He promotes an ambitious, visionary agenda for Canada that includes environmentalism and greater personal freedom. He sees relations with the United States as a key problem for Canada, a problem that involves the drug war and other wars. The fiery leader makes no secret of his belief that the US behaves unilaterally as a bully, and that Canada should resist US efforts to involve Canada in military wars, star wars missile defense, and the war against marijuana.
Layton’s increased stature is a problem for the Conservatives, a party that also made gains in this election. To some observers, it is rather troubling that the Bible-thumping Conservatives did as well as they did. Their leading campaigner, Stephen Harper, sounded like a right-wing American as he espoused his anti-abortion, anti-drug, pro-war, pro-corporate, pro-NAFTA, pro-US views. Conservative politicians like Abbottsford MP Randy White got elected with huge majorities, even though White and other local Conservative candidates went public with repressive policies and personal beliefs.
White, long despised by progressives in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver because of his extremist views on marijuana, gay rights, the US, and the environment, represents the town of Abbottsford, home of marijuana fertilizer company Advanced Nutrients.
White’s margin of victory is intriguing, given that about half the citizens of Abbottsford are Mennonite religious fundamentalists, while the other half of the citizenry is made of a sizable percentage of hardcore, long-time pot growers.
Political pundits say the logistical outcome of these elections will be the “moderation” of federal policy and a slowing down of legislative action. Because no party received a clear mandate, there will be more debate, more compromise, and more stalled legislation.
Whether this is good for pot legalizers is anyone’s guess, but NDP activist and Cannabis Culture editor Dana Larsen says this year’s elections provided valuable experience, reputation and muscle for marijuana proponents.
Larsen barely missed being selected as an NDP candidate this year, and intends to be an NDP candidate in future elections.
He spent a lot time during the run-up to the election helping local NDP candidates with public relations and media outreach.
“I’m sure that the marijuana vote helped the NDP a lot,” Larsen said, speaking in a haze of smoke at the Toker’s Bowl in Vancouver. “I also personally learned a lot about politics and how to get the message to voters and the press. Our movement’s goals are being heard, and we are having more influence than ever among politicians at the local and federal level.”