This was the week Justin Trudeau recaptured the cool factor.
For a while there, the Prime Minister seemed to have lost his mojo. One spectacular PR blunder (see: India trip) had made him look like a flaky Bollywood wannabe instead of Canada’s Kennedy. Policy-wise, his government had been losing steam, after buying a pipeline to nowhere and failing to sell the provinces on his carbon-pricing grand bargain. The Liberals went missing in action on the border as asylum seekers stomped all over our immigration laws. And after blowing hot and cold at Donald Trump, the PM ended up giving the U.S. President pretty much everything he wanted in the new USMCA trade deal. We were out-negotiated, almost humiliatingly so.
All of this had reduced the odds that Mr. Trudeau and the federal Liberals would coast to re-election in 2019. Team Trudeau was on its way to defeating itself with a brazenly content-less policy agenda and its own asphyxiating political correctness. Worst of all, instead of sounding earnest and eager to help, as he had in 2015, Mr. Trudeau had started sounding smug.
Then legal pot arrived, and this PM was again our coolest ever. “This is a testament to the Canadian spirit. I feel a sense of pride that we’re ahead of the U.S. on this,” one Montreal university student told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday as he waited in line outside a government-run cannabis store. “It shows that Canadians are open-minded people.”
Of course, Canada is not technically “ahead of the U.S. on this.” Recreational marijuana has been legal for a while in several states, including California, whose population exceeds all of Canada’s. Pot smokers can make their way down the entire U.S. West Coast without ever having to turn to the black market. Canada’s pot policies are largely based on the American states that legalized recreational cannabis before us. So, our grand “experiment” really isn’t much of one, at all.
But none of that matters from an optics perspective. As the first country that most people can find on a map to legalize marijuana (Uruguay doesn’t count), the entire world’s eyes were on Canada this week. As foreign TV cameras rolled on giddy Canadians who lined up from coast to coast to coast to buy prerolled joints and other cannabis products, this country looked awesome.
And, suddenly, the Trudeau government looked fresh and modern again. It took a risk in legalizing recreational marijuana. Now it should reap the rewards. You don’t need to be a pot smoker to see the wisdom in the Liberal government’s willingness to break the taboos around cannabis use. It makes the Conservatives look downright reactionary and stodgy.
Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, who broke a few taboos of his own while in office (see: free trade, apartheid, acid rain treaty), this week joined the board of a U.S.-based cannabis company saying he was “encouraged about the prospects [related to] the end of prohibition.” The 79-year-old former PM’s actions speak volumes on how he thinks the Conservatives have handled the marijuana file by prudishly opposing legalization.
Andrew Scheer is a decent fellow, but he was never a strong contender to beat Mr. Trudeau in 2019. His chances all but evaporated this week as Justin Cool returned to town. Almost 18 months after winning the Conservative leadership, Mr. Scheer has not bothered to articulate a vision for the country or where he wants to take it. Why does he want to become prime minister, anyway? Does he, or anyone else, know?
The best thing that can be said about Mr. Scheer is that he is not Maxime Bernier. The latter has plenty to say, but not much of it seems aimed at anything other than hurting Mr. Scheer and building his People’s Party brand among a motley crowd of Conservative malcontents who hold some fairly unsavoury views. Still, Mr. Bernier is enough of a distraction that Mr. Scheer may have to spend most of 2019 looking over his own shoulder rather than ahead to the fall election.
Besides, Conservative hopes that a resurgent New Democratic Party under Jagmeet Singh would trigger an exodus of progressive voters from the Liberals have all but faded. Mr. Singh is struggling to keep his job as acute buyer’s remorse grips New Democrats. He is vying for a seat in Parliament in a yet-to-be-called by-election in Burnaby South that the Liberals may allow him to win, if only to ensure that he survives long enough as NDP Leader to fight the 2019 election.
A year is a long time in politics and Mr. Trudeau could still screw up again. But unless they were smoking something, who, after this week, would put their money on anyone else?