Michael Ignatieff 's Liberals are the only viable national alternative to the governing Conservatives, but they remain stagnant in the polls. The ex-Oxford professor is smart but uncharismatic, and lacks the common touch that politicians like Jean Chretien and Bill Clinton were able to make long political careers out of.
Stephen Harper, no Mr. Excitement himself, has created the impression that he has preserved our economic standing through hazardous global upheavals, and compared to Ignatieff, he's practically Harrison Ford in popular appeal.
But the Conservatives have some wonky, anti-libertarian, nanny-state policies ripe for exploitation by the Liberals, if only they had the courage to take them on.
One of these is Harper's antiquated, uninformed marijuana policy.
Police chiefs all over Canada realize that enforcing marijuana laws is impractical and pointless. Cops themselves (even the ones who don't smoke pot) don't take marijuana possession seriously as a crime, while most people who understand its effects know that it is far less damaging to society than alcohol.
Stoned drivers aren't responsible for thousands of traffic accidents and fatalities every year. Stoned members of the public aren't likely to be hyper-aggressive and pick bar fights. While the government treats the public as adults when it comes to alcohol consumption, it makes a hefty profit for public coffers through related taxes and jobs at the same time. But in the case of marijuana, we have paternalistic laws that are a waste of money and resources to enforce, to no real avail, and benefit no one but criminals who sell contraband.
It might be Ignatieff's only chance to stand out and shift the public debate to an area where he can go on the offensive if he were to attack Harper's unsound position on cannabis laws. We know just about every Canadian politician who supports legal sanctions against marijuana is a hypocrite who has partaken of the weed at some point.
Rather than enforcing anti-marijuana legislation that creates criminals while benefiting crime lords, why not legalize and tax it, creating jobs for Canadians and a new source of government revenue?
The only demographic group that has given the Liberals a lead over the Conservatives in polls is the under 25 year-olds. But this age group is traditionally unexcited by politics and is the most likely not to bother to vote. If Ignatieff were to propose legalizing and taxing marijuana, he could latch on to an issue that actually would excite and motivate that demographic group.
If he has the guts to take that step remains to be seen. I'm not betting on Ignatieff doing that, but if he did, it would make the May 2 election a lot more exciting than being just a question of whether Stephen Harper gets a big or a small majority government.