CAQ’s ar­bi­trary num­bers are good pol­i­tics, but bad pol­icy

Montreal Gazette - - CITY - DON MACPHER­SON [email protected] Twit­ter: DMacpGaz

True story: Be­fore the 1970 Que­bec elec­tion, Robert Bourassa was sit­ting with his head back over a sink, get­ting a sham­poo for what the for­mer French para­trooper with the mys­te­ri­ous past who served as his com­bi­na­tion body­guard-hair­dresser de­scribed as his “ner­vous hair.” (Wait, that’s not the whole story.) Sud­denly, an idea came to the then Liberal leader, who had been seek­ing a way to es­tab­lish him­self in the minds of the elec­torate as the best choice for the econ­omy. “One hun­dred thou­sand jobs!” Bourassa said to him­self. He would prom­ise that num­ber of jobs would be cre­ated in the first year of a Liberal gov­ern­ment. And it worked, so well that Bourassa led his party to vic­tory in the elec­tion, and along the way ac­quired the nick­name Bob la Job. (The econ­omy then came through with the promised jobs, but only in the first cal­en­dar year of Bourassa’s gov­ern­ment.) Pluck­ing num­bers out of thin air for cam­paign prom­ises still works. This week, Bourassa’s cur­rent suc­ces­sor, François Le­gault, took steps to­ward keep­ing two such com­mit­ments on which his Coali­tion Avenir Québec gov­ern­ment was elected Oct. 1. They are to re­duce the num­ber of im­mi­grants Que­bec ac­cepts next year to about 40,000, and to raise the min­i­mum age for legally buy­ing cannabis to 21. Both num­bers are ar­bi­trary rather than ev­i­dence-based, ap­par­ently cho­sen sim­ply be­cause, like Bourassa’s 100,000 jobs, they’re easy to re­mem­ber. And the prom­ises con­tain­ing them are good ex­am­ples of the CAQ’s pop­ulism in re­spond­ing to con­ser­va­tive vot­ers’ fears with sim­ple, one-sen­tence solutions that in the elec­tion proved to be good pol­i­tics, but in gov­ern­ment look like bad pol­icy. Raising the min­i­mum age for legally buy­ing cannabis from the present 18 is for vot­ers who didn’t want to see mar­i­juana le­gal­ized in Canada in the first place. But why 21? Why not 25, since young peo­ple are more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence harm from cannabis be­fore that age, be­cause their brains are still de­vel­op­ing? On the one hand, the Coali­tion gov­ern­ment ig­nores that ar­gu­ment for raising the age all the way to 25. On the other, it re­jects the ad­vice of ex­perts it con­sulted, who rec­om­mended leav­ing it at 18. It’s in­con­sis­tent to trust 18-year-olds’ judg­ment when it comes to vot­ing, and on whether to risk their lives by join­ing the armed forces or their health by drink­ing al­co­hol or us­ing tobacco — but not about weed. And pro­hi­bi­tion has re­peat­edly been shown to suc­ceed not in pre­vent­ing the con­sump­tion of a for­bid­den sub­stance, but only in cre­at­ing an il­le­gal mar­ket for it. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s strat­egy in le­gal­iz­ing cannabis de­pends on elim­i­nat­ing the il­le­gal mar­ket that al­ready ex­ists. Eigh­teen-year-olds who wanted to get a buzz on were al­ready get­ting their hands on weed be­fore it be­came le­gal. The Que­bec gov­ern­ment’s statis­tics in­sti­tute re­ported that in 201415, 38 per cent of Que­be­cers be­tween the ages of 15 and 24 said they had con­sumed cannabis in the past year. The more the le­gal pur­chase is re­stricted or made ex­pen­sive or in­con­ve­nient, the more of an open­ing it leaves for il­le­gal deal­ers. And raising the le­gal min­i­mum age for pur­chase to 21 would make the rules in Que­bec, the prov­ince of joie-de-vivre, the strictest in the coun­try. The re­duc­tion in im­mi­gra­tion by about 20 per cent is one of sev­eral prom­ises in which the Coali­tion of­fered to de­fend the lan­guage, cul­ture and val­ues of French-speak­ing Que­be­cers against mi­nori­ties. The CAQ says too many of the ap­prox­i­mately 50,000 im­mi­grants that Que­bec now ac­cepts an­nu­ally are fail­ing to learn French im­me­di­ately. But it doesn’t say why more of the present num­ber wouldn’t suc­ceed with the help of ad­di­tional re­sources for teach­ing French, which the gov­ern­ment has promised, and which this week’s fi­nan­cial up­date showed it can well af­ford. Le­gault says his gov­ern­ment is na­tion­al­ist, and its pri­or­ity is the econ­omy. But busi­ness peo­ple and lo­cal elected of­fi­cials across the prov­ince say re­duc­ing im­mi­gra­tion can only worsen an al­ready grow­ing man­power short­age. And Que­bec’s pop­u­la­tion growth, and there­fore its po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence within Canada, now de­pends mainly on im­mi­gra­tion.

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