Liberals decided they’ll keep the Queen for now but legalize pot after emotional and spirited debates that finally woke up delegates from their early morning stupor on this last day of their three-day biennial convention.
At a convention billed as being about policy, there was no interest in debating resolutions on reinstating the Canadian Wheat Board and supporting Canadian farmers, reaffirming a woman’s right to choose by financially penalizing provinces that deny women access to abortion or building high-speed rail lines across Canada. All those passed with little or no fanfare.
But when it came to the Liberal youth’s priority resolution to consider studying severing ties with the “British Crown” and the “implementation of instituting a Canadian head of state popularly elected ...”, line-ups formed behind the microphones.
“No Canadian can ever aspire to hold the position,” argued Liberal youth vice-president Sean Sutherland, who presented the motion. He urged delegates to be bold as they were Saturday night when they adopted opening up the party to a new class of “supporters”.
“Instead it has been historically held by an unelected monarch who lives an ocean away,” said Mr. Sutherland.
He noted that Liberals are not strangers to controversial positions, saying that in the 1990s their debates about legalizing same-sex marriage were dismissed as not important as this monarchy resolution is being today.
“That didn’t stop young Liberals then. This won’t stop us now,” vowed Mr. Sutherland.
Not everyone agreed.
“Happy Diamond Jubilee by the way,” said a Vancouver East delegate speaking against the resolution and referring to the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s reign this year. “Nothing is more Canadian than our Crown.”
Toronto MP Carolyn Bennett, who is the party’s critic on aboriginal affairs, argued that aboriginal peoples’ treaties are with the Crown.
“We should tread very carefully before we move into this area,” she said.
Another delegate, who identified himself as Ryan Barber, asserted the resolution would be “very divisive and alienate Liberal supporters.”
In addition, the motion doesn’t say what kind of system would be adopted. “Do you want to hear the words ‘President Harper’,” Mr. Barber said.
But what received the most applause and support were the delegate’s statements, who accused Liberal youth leaders of betraying the trust of other young Liberals.
Instead of talking about what is important to them and what truly affects their lives – “shrinking jobs,” post-secondary education and increase of aboriginal Canadians in jail – they chose this motion that can “only bring harm and ridicule to our party,” Mr. Barber said.
The motion, which 62 per cent of delegates voted down, called for the Liberal Party to “urge the Parliament of Canada to form an all-party committee to study the implementation of instituting a Canadian head of state popularly elected and sever formal ties with the British Crown.”
Montreal MP Marc Garneau argued that it should be studied.
One young Liberal argued that he could never be head of state because he “was born to my parents”.
“This is Canada ... [a Canadian]should be able to be whatever they want to be regardless of their background,” he said, arguing that Liberals have been bold in the past bringing in the flag and repatriating the constitution.
“Let’s get a Canadian head of state we can all be proud of,” he said.
An Ottawa Vanier youth delegate told delegates “it’s time we grew up.”
“We were once a white Anglo Saxon British nation ... we have moved beyond that,” he said, noting that his parents came from Eastern Europe because they “loved Canada and not Britain.”
The controversy didn't end there, however. Another emotional debate ensued over demands that a new Liberal government would legalize and regulate marijuana. Former Ontario MP Andrew Telegdi supported it, arguing that prime ministers, justice ministers and even American presidents have admitted to smoking pot.
“Let's not criminalize our youth,” he urged.
His sentiment was echoed by a delegate, who identified himself as a police officer. He says youth are made “criminals” of every day because of the marijuana laws. “This country does not need more prisons, it needs less criminals,” he said.
And the motion passed.