Opioids, pot and economics: three ways politics touched Canadians this week

By , on December 18, 2016


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OTTAWA—It was the final week of Parliament before Christmas, and all through the House, the Liberals did their best to make sure no one had any time to think about ethics or fundraising before heading home for the holidays.

By the time MPs agreed Wednesday afternoon to rise until the end of January, the government had announced a new opioid strategy, ramped up negotiations with the provinces on health care funding, welcomed a complicated blueprint on how to legalize pot, set up a different system for new Canadians to bring in their parents and grandparents and launched a review of the assisted-dying law.

None of that kept the criticism at bay, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeatedly found himself being asked why he believes it’s acceptable to consort with — and accept $1,500 fees from — donors with vested interests.

In a policy-heavy week, there were more than a few things worth pondering. Here are just three of the ways politics touched everyday lives, from how the government wants to control drugs to how the Conservatives deal with economics.

Opioids

The government has announced a two-pronged approach to confronting the opioid crisis.

Health Minister Jane Philpott has tabled legislation that would give cities more leeway to open up supervised drug injection sites. The law would essentially remove the high bar set by the previous Conservative government, which required communities to meet 26 conditions in order to qualify. For now, there are only two safe injection sites in Canada, both in Vancouver.

At the same time, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale proposed measures to crack down on illegal drugs and their ingredients coming over the border. Border guards would be allowed to examine very small suspicious packages and also restrict the import of equipment used to make drugs.

In British Columbia alone, officials say there have been 622 fatal drug overdoses between January and October this year, of which about 60 per cent were linked to fentanyl.

Marijuana

Even as Ottawa moved to more strictly control opioids, it also got a step closer to legalizing pot. A government-appointed task force finally made public a blueprint that would allow those 18 and older to buy regulated marijuana from stores and through the mail.

Taxes should be high enough to discourage too much toking, but low enough to undermine the black market, the task force recommended. And strict controls should be placed around distribution to keep pot out of the hands of children.

Legislation is expected in the spring, but since the issues around legalization are complex and controversial, and a new regime has to be put in place, it could be quite a while before pot is available for legal sale in Canada.

And while the Liberal government has made positive noises about the task force’s recommendations, the police are generally leery about their ability to deal with drug-impaired driving.

Economics

There are some interesting indications in the Conservative leadership race that the once-unconventional is now fair game.

Some of the wannabes have questioned publicly whether the next leader really needs to be able to speak both English and French. And economic planks put forward by a range of candidates this week suggests thinking outside the box doesn’t stop at language.

On the traditional side of the ledger, we saw Erin O’Toole this week wanting to use tax breaks to help new graduates, especially for those who have skills that are in need. We also saw Deepak Obhrai propose tying old age security increases to salary hikes of MPs. And Lisa Raitt asked the parliamentary budget officer to study the economic impact of taxing health and dental benefits — something the Liberals have mused about.

But Maxime Bernier, considered a front-runner in the campaign, is straying off the conventional path. Bernier is singling out the Bank of Canada governor for being too Liberal in his embrace of deficit-financed growth. He also wants the central bank to lower its inflation target to zero — instead of the traditional two per cent range. And instead of relying on monetary or fiscal policy to fuel growth, Bernier wants government to do everything it can to get out of the private sector’s way.