Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and late-night talk host David Letterman have something in common: they've both recently been plagued by the debilitating nerve condition known as the shingles. Having freely admitted that the disease drove him crazy and clouded his judgment, Letterman wisely decided to take some time off from his show to rest and recuperate. Judging by the recent actions of Prime Minister Chretien, perhaps he should be doing the same.
It appears that Chretien has been spending much of his time lately trying to figure out how he can poke yet another stick in George W. Bush's eye. Chretien seems to be determined to show Canadians, Americans and the rest of the world that he's still "Da Boss"--even if doing so ends up costing Canada dearly in the long run.
Chretien has held federal office considerably longer than I've been alive. He's a dust-farting holdover from the Pierre Trudeau regime of the late 1960s. Unfortunately, he's still "large and in charge," and desperately wants everyone to know it. Chretien is slated to finally step down at a leadership convention this fall--thereby allowing for a successor to emerge from his shadow and take over the reigns of the federal Liberal Party's de facto dictatorship. But until then, Chretien seems hell-bent on making sure that people are well-aware that he's still the one calling the shots.
One of the dumbest political (and public relations) moves I've seen in a long time occurred when Chretien broke ranks with Canada's traditional allies--the US, Great Britain, and Australia--and adamantly refused to support military action in Iraq. Now once-proud citizens of Canada--a country that has traditionally stood for freedom and democracy--have to face other citizens of the world knowing that when Saddam Hussein was terrorizing, torturing, and murdering his people, our government refused to do anything but sit on the sidelines and watch it all happen.
As if this inaction wasn't enough, Chretien then ordered the Canadian military ships that were already in the Middle East not to do anything at all to help the US and its allies in the Iraqi war, even if they were called upon to do so.
Under Chretien's watch, the Canadian military has dwindled to nothing short of a pathetic joke. As Canadian Alliance MP James Moore points out, "The Liberals buy dented submarines, they give jungle camouflage to troops heading into a desert environment, our troops have no ammunition, transportation and food rations from American soldiers in Afghanistan, and they had their port-o-potties taken away because we couldn't afford them. What a disgrace." A disgraceful embarrassment indeed.
But Canada's very own Godzilla-with-a-French-accent still has more damage to inflict before his time in office runs out. His next goal is to push through federal legislation that would allow for the decriminalization of marijuana, as well as toking and driving. Yes, that's right--even though pot is second only to alcohol as a factor in car crashes, "Cheech" Chretien feels that all Canadians should have the freedom of lighting up a fatty while cruising down the Number One. I suppose he figures that the slowdown in the Canadian economy that will inevitably result from truckers across the country toking and traveling at 10 miles per hour will be offset by the increased spending on "munchie breaks" at trucker greasy spoon stops nationwide.
Chretien's move to decriminalize pot has caused a rift within his own cabinet. Health Minister Anne McLellan says that removing possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana from the Criminal Code will result in increased use, as it has in other countries that have softened their laws. Robert Weiner--Director of Public Affairs, White House Office of National Drug Policy (May 1995-August 2001) and for the Bush transition--agrees. He says that, "legalization and increased availability will bring increased usage, and anyone who tries to say they won't is BSing you."
Weiner points out that "drug use now [in the US] is half of what it was in the late 1970's and early 1980's; cocaine use is down by 70%; crime is at all time record lows. The PRIDE data of 100,000 students annually shows, surprising to legalization advocates, that marijuana is disproportionately involved in crime and violence. It is not some lethargic neutralizer of aggressive behavior as the myth purports. Also surprising to many is that marijuana is the most used drug for which teens seek treatment in hospital emergency rooms and clinics. It is a drug, purely and simply, and is part of the drug culture and often sold as part of the same stable with other illegal drugs."
Canadian government officials went to Washington, DC, this week to test the waters on the decriminalization issue with US Attorney General John Ashcroft and other members of the Bush administration. Three guesses how that turned out. Surely, from the decriminalization ideas the Canadians were feeding him, Ashcroft must figure there's already way too much toking going on north of the 49th--at least amongst members of Chretien's government. Who could blame him, when after a recent $500-a-plate fundraising dinner in Montreal, Chretien said about his marijuana legislation, "It's coming, it's coming. Relax. You don't have to smoke it to relax."
Throwing in the towel in the "war on drugs" by decriminalizing marijuana possession is most definitely not the answer. It will only serve to hold up traffic at the border, increase drug use, and further alienate the Americans. Weiner says that Canada could very well be heading down a dangerous path that "will likely require societal and legislative corrections in future years as [was the case in] the US. So our past behavior of the 70's and 80's, when drug use and crime were at their peak, is not the lesson that Canada probably wants to emulate...or if they do, they will also likely then follow our comprehensive drug strategy down the road that we were forced to adopt to fight massive drug addiction and drug related crime and now have succeeded with. Why not just do that first?"
Chalk it up to utter ignorance, an ongoing power-trip, or a nasty case of the shingles, but Chretien is still speaking loudly and carrying a big stick--one that's forever aimed straight at the collective eye of his neighbors to the south. Chretien desperately needs to be introduced to another stick--one with a big hook at the end of it that would facilitate his long-overdue exit, stage left of course.