It was just like a John Hughes film.
Justin Trudeau admitted to smoking pot while he was a sitting member of parliament, telling the establishment where to go like a young Judd Nelson. Stephen Harper was the school principal, shaking his head at the young delinquent with all the confidence of a middle aged white man deciphering rap lyrics.
Cue fist pump.
Trudeau is on the right side of the issue, and history will call him the only leader by the year 2013 who had the stones to say publicly what most Canadians already knew; marijuana should be legal to use and possess. The wait for the end of prohibition has always been about politics, not science. And the liberal leader, as overly youthful and idealistic as he seems to some, is betting on a winning hand.
He’s been lucky, too. Forrest Gumpian gaffes have benefited Trudeau as the responses and talking points of the Harper government become stale and predictable. The conservatives have not gained any traction among Canadians and have numerous albatrosses in the form of greedy senators and domestic spying allegations. The government is still raising lots of money, which is crucial to any party, but close to half of Harper’s base agrees with Trudeau in principle, even if they won’t admit it publicly. These libertarians know they won’t ever vote Liberal or NDP, but they’re already frustrated with this prime minister and may not feel so inspired to cast a ballot in 2015.
The one area where Trudeau might be feeling pressure is internally, especially among the old party stewards like Stephane Dion and Ralph Goodale. At the January 2012 Liberal convention in Ottawa, Dion told me marijuana was a “dangerous substance” and should not be legalized. Goodale publicly stammered his way through a Q and A when asked about marijuana, sounding more like a man who was wondering what his constituents in Saskatchewan were thinking. Now, both of these men, and it’s likely a dozen or so other liberal MPs, feel a little sandbagged. This did not have the feel of a well oiled policy announcement, to say the least.
But it’s a winner in the long run, especially with two years before the next election. And for the liberals, it’s also a coup of sorts. The NDP and the CPC will be singing from the same songbook, and Trudeau will be stripteasing right between them, collecting votes from young people from both sides along the way, not to mention scores of new voters.
He may also have increased voter turnout among voters under 35, a feat that would be more important than any other strategic victory for him and his party.
As if the recent announcement of Sophie Trudeau being pregnant wasn’t widening the generational gap enough, Trudeau may have just secured the sensible middle vote too. Pot might not be the most important issue to most Canadians, but courage ranks high. Like him or not, he is acting like the game changer his party hoped he would be.
It’s just that this version may take a while to kick in.