“Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?” ― Robert Browning
Mr. Trudeau, meet Mr. Browning.
One thing the Trudeau government cannot be accused of is lack of reach. Its ambitions have carried it into endeavours that the Harper government did not attempt to reach or had no interest in reaching.
These range from climate change to a process of reconciliation with first nations, from Senate reform to a shift of some of the tax burden from middle to high income earners, from the appointment of a gender equal cabinet to increased consultation with the provinces, and from overhaul of the electoral system to the legalization of marijuana.
According to one scorecard, the Liberals made no fewer than 214 promises in the 2015 election campaign. That’s quite a reach.
The opposition parties have been happily hammering away at Trudeau for his broken promises. As parliamentary tactics go, that’s predictable. Some of the Liberal promises have been kept and some have not, while many, perhaps most, are still somewhere in the works.
In at least one case – electoral reform – the government’s reach seems clearly to have exceeded its grasp. The same, I suspect, may prove to be true with the legalization of marijuana.
Both issues require the existence of national consensus.
To start with electoral reform, Trudeau rashly promised to replace the first-past-the-post system of electing members of Parliament in time for the next election. But replace it with what? There is no consensus. As the Commons special committee learned, people prefer FPTP to any of the leading proportional or preferential ballot alternatives.
With this lack of consensus, if the Liberals were to hold a referendum, as the opposition parties demand, the verdict would almost certainly be to stay with FPTP – to do nothing.
Trudeau’s reach may also exceed his grasp when it comes to the legalization of marijuana. It was another of his election pledges. The government has promised to introduce legislation this spring with a view to having a new pot regime in place by 2019.
I am not going to argue for or against legalization. Personally, I don’t much care. I know young people who fervently favour of making cannabis legal for personal consumption; they may well have voted Liberal last year on the strength of that promise.
But I also know older people who are just as firmly against, and many who, like me, don’t care one way or the other.
If there were a referendum, I suspect the “Nos” and “Don’t Cares” would outnumber the “Yes” tally.
In the absence of a broad public will, or consensus, the Trudeau government and those provinces that opt to get in on the potentially lucrative distribution of legal pot, will have to accept the political fallout when things go wrong, as they inevitably will.
There are too many questions. What will the legal age for possession be? Will it be 18, as the federal task force recommended last week? Or will it be the same as the drinking age in each province? Some medical experts told the task force that marijuana can have harmful effects on the brains of youths; they recommend a minimum age of 21 or even 25.
How about toking and driving? How will pot be sold? Some provinces would like to distribute it through their liquor stores (which strikes me as a bad idea). Some advocates say pharmacies should sell recreational marijuana along with the medical variety (an even worse idea, in my view).
And a whole industry of marijuana growers and vendors is already pawing at the gates of Parliament Hill to get in on the bonanza the instant the stuff becomes legal.
Are we ready for this modern-day gold rush?