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Robert Silver

How Liberals should reframe crime bills Add to ...

The Liberal Party of Canada does not come to the table on the Conservative government’s crime legislation with clean hands.

We passed in government mandatory minimum sentences. We were painfully wishy-washy in the early days of the Harper minority governments on these very same crime provisions out of fear of being labeled “soft on crime” (this changed when Mark Holland became the critic later in the last Parliament before this spring’s election). When Bob Rae said Tuesday, in a clear statement of the obvious, that the “war on drugs has failed,” he is also stating that consistent Liberal Party policy (with a minor interruption when we supported decriminalization of marijuana) was a failure.

But if we are really reinventing the Liberal Party then why are we in any way bound by the past. Why wouldn’t we take the statement the “war on drugs has failed” to its only logical conclusion, namely that “the Liberal Party of Canada would therefore end the war on drugs. We will legalize and regulate drugs. We were wrong in the past to support policies that based on objective evidence do not work and only have destructive consequences domestically and internationally but we have learned from our mistakes and if Canadians trust us to form government again, we will do things differently.”

In one clear, unambiguous statement, the Liberal Party would be standing on very different ground. We’d of course be attacked by the Conservatives as supporting giving heroin to 12-year-olds. The NDP (who are currently lock-step with the Conservatives and Liberals on the issue) would likely mock us as well. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

Guess what – when you are buried in the polls and in desperate need for redefinition, taking principled, evidenced-based risks is exactly what you need. As I have said and written every single time since May 2 that I’ve proposed such a “risk,” if you don’t like this one, if you don’t like opposing supply management, if you don’t like open primaries for ridings, that’s fine. Just tell me what policy changes you want the Liberal Party to push instead.

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