You’ll be forgiven if you failed to notice that Canada recently elected a new Parliament and a new prime minister. The campaign, which lasted less than three months, was the longest since the 1870s, yet it drew little attention south of the border.
Seventy-eight days is nothing by American standards, but the election Oct. 19 marked a tidal shift in Canadian politics – and a huge break for the future of legalization. The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, promised during the campaign that he would make weed legal, meaning the country is poised to join Uruguay as one of the two places in the world where pot is legal at every level of government.
Trudeau open to reform
It’s unclear how or when he plans to carry through on that promise, but expectations among activists are high. Trudeau, who leads the center-left Liberal party, has positioned himself as a radical reformer who supports deficit spending, immigrant rights, and legal cannabis.
All these positions were anathema to the former prime minister, Conservative Stephen Harper, who was roundly rejected by voters. The Liberals won a solid majority of the seats in Parliament, which means they can form a government without the help of either of the other two main parties, the ultra-liberal NDP or the Conservatives.
Canadian voters, like voters in the United Kingdom, don’t cast ballots for prime minister. Rather, they elect MPs, or members of Parliament, who represent “ridings,” geographic regions similar to House districts in the United States. The party that wins the most seats in Parliament appoints ministers to run the executive branch of government. They include the prime minister, who also leads the majority party.
Harper won office a decade ago, when his party took advantage of a deeply divided left wing and began imposing policies that were unusually conservative for Canada. He earned the enmity of the left by cutting social programs, trying to block access to medical marijuana, and banning Muslim face veils during citizenship ceremonies.
Defeat for the Conservatives
Observers called Trudeau’s victory a stinging defeat for Conservatives, who are now the official opposition party. Canadian voters, like voters in the United States, have moved sharply to the left in recent years, and Harper’s Bush-style conservatism turned many of them off.
It’s hardly certain that weed will be legal in Canada anytime soon. Conservatives in Parliament will undoubtedly fight any reform proposals, and may be able to muster enough clout to slow progress. But Canada is clearly heading toward legalization, and Canadians could soon put U.S. reformers to shame.
Trudeau, a French-Canadian whose famously liberal father ran the country from the late 1960s until the early 1980s, enters office with a mandate for change. He has promised to withdraw Canada’s military from Middle Eastern conflicts and instead pursue a multilateral approach to foreign affairs. He also vowed to make the country more hospitable to immigrants and minorities, as it once was.
But the biggest news for potheads is that the Great White North may soon be a great place to get legal weed. That may only help Americans who live near the border, in the short term, but in the long run it will only accelerate legalization in the United States.