Canada’s political class has spent the past few days being button-holed by the media about drug use after Justin Trudeau’s revelation that he smoked marijuana while an MP.
Responses have included admissions, jokes, mild condemnation and a note of concern from one federal minister about how much politicians should be expected to share about what they do when they are not at work.
“I think politicians are entitled to private lives,” said Conservative Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who was asked on Friday during a news conference with his Indonesian counterpart whether he had ever smoked weed.
Mr. Baird stated in both languages that his answer is no.
“I came of age politically in the 1980s and I can recall when one of president [Ronald] Reagan’s nominees for the Supreme Court had to withdraw because of his use of that substance. So, I took my example from that,” he said.
While Mr. Trudeau’s comments have triggered a debate about political leadership, they also come as police groups are challenging the status quo in the enforcement of Canada’s drug policies – suggesting offenders be ticketed, not arrested.
The renewed discussion, inspired in part by pro-legalization referendums in the United States, is reviving interest in the policy options. The last major federal study, done by the Senate in 2002, recommended marijuana be legalized and regulated in a similar way to tobacco and alcohol.
The Harper government has so far rejected such an approach and has approved stiffer penalties related to marijuana. Conservative Justice Minister Peter MacKay – who said on Friday he had never smoked pot – strongly condemned Mr. Trudeau this week as “a poor example for all Canadians.”
Others opted for a joke when asked about the subject.
“We’ll let Canadians interpret Mr. Trudeau’s words and actions. All I can say is I would like to make a public confession that I do drink coffee,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said, adding that he has never smoked marijuana. “No. But I’ve been drinking coffee for many years.”
Michelle Rempel – Canada’s Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification and, at 33, the youngest Conservative MP – said in a written message she has never smoked marijuana “thanks to a very competitive flute ensemble and a very, very watchful mama (thanks Mom!).” Ms. Rempel said her worst recent transgression “has been a bottle of room temperature Asti,” a sparkling white wine.
Ontario Liberal Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Progressive Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek both said on Friday they have not smoked marijuana since entering elected office and had more important subjects to worry about.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told a newspaper in 2007 he smoked “infrequently” during his younger years, saying “it didn’t really do anything for me.” Alberta Premier Alison Redford says she has never smoked marijuana, while Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he once did so infrequently. He supports legalization. of marijuana, which he says, as an illegal drug, finances gangs in his city and others.
“People look at the billions being spent on law enforcement and bigger prisons and think, ‘Is this the best way we could be spending our tax dollars?’” Mr. Robertson said in a statement.
Other federal Conservative ministers are on record.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Treasury Board President Tony Clement answered the question in 2002, when they were vying for the leadership of the Ontario PC Party.
“Yeah, in my teenage years … a couple of times,” Mr. Flaherty said. “I have to admit: I didn’t like it.”
Mr. Clement said drugs are not his thing.“Not even a cigarette,” he said in 2002. “It’s true. I’m not controversial.”
Bill Clinton’s 1992 comment while running for the Democratic presidential nomination that he “didn’t inhale” may be the most famous.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper – who usually says he never smoked pot because of his asthma – once gave a far more colourful response at a high school in Listowel, Ont.
“I like to tell people I was offered a joint once, but I was too drunk to smoke it,” he said in 2004, while leader of the Canadian Alliance.
With reports from Jane Taber and Adrian Morrow