On marijuana, Justin Trudeau's Liberals fight back

Paul Wells on what's at play in the 2015 election campaign

Remember those Conservative radio ads targeting Justin Trudeau and the Liberals on marijuana legalization? No? Not surprising: They haven’t received much coverage except for this piece I wrote a month ago. The Conservative ads ran for weeks on end, although they seem (I say tentatively) to have stopped. It was an aggressive buy, it ran in Punjabi and probably in Mandarin and Cantonese, and it sought to make parents worry that Liberal drug policy would harm children.

Now the Liberals are running ads of their own on the same issue. Here:

Here’s the script for the ads in English:

In the past seven years of Stephen Harper and his Conservative government, our community has been flooded with marijuana. Justin Trudeau wants to tightly regulate marijuana, to keep it out of the hands of our kids and striking back at the criminals and gangs who distribute it. Stephen Harper’s approach has failed. We need a leader who is willing to tackle problems with solutions that actually work. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are looking out for themselves. Justin Trudeau is looking out for us. He’ll be a Prime Minister with real priorities. Authorized by the Liberal Party of Canada.

I’d be awfully curious to know how extensive the ad buy for these spots is. I’m told they’re running mostly, but not exclusively, in suburban Vancouver and in the Greater Toronto Area. Readers who’ve heard them in paid commercial time should feel free to say so in the comments or on Twitter using #SawAnAd.

What’s significant is that the Liberals are riposting to the Conservative campaign; that they are doing so with a description of Trudeau’s policy (and the effects of Harper’s!) that many Conservatives would find surprising; and that they sound for all the world like the sort of critical “contrast” ads Trudeau had seemed to foreswear.

Readers who haven’t been following this barely-below-the-surface ad campaign on drug policy may be surprised to learn that so much of it is being played out in immigrant communities in non-official languages. They shouldn’t be. As I’ve written, there’s a lot of sensitivity in these communities around drug use, although of course opinion is diverse there as it is anywhere.

For an indication of just how sensitive, read this blog post by Justin McElroy, a Vancouver journalist. He crunches numbers from a recent failed petition drive to force a referendum on pot decriminalization in B.C. The drive’s organizers released a lot of riding-specific data on the extent to which their campaign succeeded or fell short; McElroy finds that in ridings with substantial populations whose mother tongue is neither French nor English, the petition drive failed spectacularly. Check out his last graph and the surrounding discussion for more.

In recent campaign-style videos aimed at the Liberal donor base, Trudeau staffers are asserting that the 2015 general-election campaign is underway. To a greater extent than I would have imagined, and a far greater extent than has so far been covered elsewhere, that campaign has begun by focusing on differences over drug policy.

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