If you missed the recent elections in Canada, you aren’t alone. It was the longest campaign season in the nation’s history, yet Americans paid it scant attention.
That’s probably in part because “the longest campaign season” translated to just 78 days, almost nothing by the standard of America’s two-year election process. But it’s also because the United States tends to view politics north of the border as unimportant.
They’re not – not this time around, anyway. The October elections did more than put a new, dramatically more progressive government in power. They also opened the door to legal marijuana nationwide.
Conservative PM ousted
On Canadian Election Day, Oct. 19, voters ousted the decade-old government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The outcome was widely viewed as further evidence of a liberal wave sweeping North America’s political institutions.
The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is a dyed-in-the-wool Canadian progressive and son of another famously progressive prime minister. Trudeau led the Liberal Party to a surprisingly strong victory, taking a majority of the seats in Parliament.
Canadians don’t elect prime ministers directly. All government ministers are appointed to office by the party with the most seats in Parliament, or by a coalition of parties that together hold a majority of seats. The prime minister is typically also the leader of his or her party.
Trudeau promised to push for legalization
Trudeau made waves in recent months by promising to push for legalization of marijuana once in office. It remains to be seen whether he will make good on that promise, but all indications are that legalization is on its way.
If that happens, Canada will join Uruguay as one of the only countries where the recreational use of marijuana is legal. Cannabis has been legalized in four U.S. states and the District of Columbia, but it remains prohibited under federal law.
Expectations are high among Canada’s stoners. Trudeau has positioned himself as a decided radical, a reformer who will use deficit spending, lift restrictions on immigrants, and legalize marijuana from coast to coast.
Harper staunchly opposed all these things, to the point that he was viewed as a racist obstructionist by many on the left. Election Day was a stinging defeat for Conservatives, who had managed to hold power for a decade by exploiting divisions among liberals.
Improved chances of marijuana legalization
The strong Liberal showing means marijuana legalization is all the more likely. Observers had predicted that neither of the three main parties (the other is the ultra-liberal NDP) would win a majority of Parliament. Had the Liberals come in first with less than 50 percent of seats, they likely would have been forced to form a coalition government with the NDP.
Instead, the Liberals will have total control of the national government. What’s more, support for cannabis reform is very high in Canada, with a growing segment of society complaining that the Conservatives were blocking progress.
Canada, like the United States, has moved sharply to the left in recent years. The country is famously liberal, yet the Conservatives managed to install a right-wing government. The outcome of Election Day means the leftward trend is likely to continue for some time.
And that is good news for reformers, marijuana smokers, and civil libertarians everywhere. The ball is rolling downhill now, and it doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon.