Baloney Meter: Are the Tories blowing smoke about Trudeau's pot plan?
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau addresses supporters at a barn party in St. Peters Bay, P.E.I. on Aug. 28, 2013. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, August 14, 2014 7:53AM EDT
OTTAWA -- "The Liberal Party of Canada's most pressing policy announcement under Justin Trudeau's leadership was to endorse the legalization of marijuana ... What is more troubling is that Justin has been conducting cross-country tours, speaking to elementary school students about the benefits of marijuana." -- Flyer sent by Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino to residents of Vaughan, Ont., in late July
Retired police officer Julian Fantino, the Conservative minister of veterans affairs, recently distributed a flyer to residents of his Toronto-area riding attacking Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's support of marijuana legalization.
Fantino's flyer, like similarly worded mailings by other Tory MPs, says Trudeau's "first order of business is to make marijuana more accessible to minors," and that the Liberals "want to make buying marijuana a normal, everyday activity for young Canadians."
It also says the Liberal leader has "visited schools to tell kids that pot should be legal."
But just how accurate are the claims in Fantino's flyer?
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of "a lot of baloney" -- the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth. Here's why.
First, let's look at what Trudeau has said about legalizing marijuana.
Last summer, he came out in favour of legalization of the drug. Previously, he'd supported decriminalization, but had reservations about making marijuana legal, a policy his party had adopted a year earlier.
"I did a lot of listening, a lot of reading and a lot of paying attention to the very serious studies that have come out, and I realized that going the road of legalization is actually a responsible thing to look at and to do," Trudeau said last July.
Added the Liberal leader: "Marijuana is not a health food supplement. It's not great for you, but it's certainly -- as many studies have shown -- not worse for you than cigarettes or alcohol."
Last November, Trudeau was again asked about marijuana while campaigning for the local Liberal byelection candidate in Manitoba.
A journalist covering the event tweeted that Trudeau was asked if he would legalize marijuana and he said he would -- but he also said the drug was bad for children and it's safer for the government to control access to it.
Now, let's look at what the Conservatives are saying.
For the record, Fantino is not the only Conservative MP to send a flyer to constituents claiming the Liberal leader is promoting marijuana to children.
In June, Vancouver MP Wai Young sent around a virtually identical flyer showing a boy about to light a joint next to the words "The Liberal agenda: sell pot in local stores." Like Fantino's, Wai's flyer claims Trudeau has "visited schools to tell kids that pot should be legal."
Similar flyers have also been sent out by Saskatchewan MP Kelly Block, Alberta MP Rob Anders and New Brunswick MP John Williamson.
In fact, Trudeau has made the argument that legalizing, regulating and taxing the drug would help keep it out of the hands of children and starve organized crime of its lucrative marijuana trade.
WHAT THEY SAY
The Canadian Press contacted both Fantino and Trudeau's offices about the flyer.
Since the flyer refers to multiple "schools," Fantino's office was asked about other schools where Trudeau has spoken about marijuana.
In an emailed response, spokeswoman Ashlee Smith did not identify other schools, nor did she provide evidence to substantiate the claim that Trudeau has spoken to students about the "benefits of marijuana" -- as opposed to stating his position.
In a follow-up phone call, Smith did not provide the name of any other schools or a specific example of Trudeau speaking to students about the benefits of marijuana.
Her statement says Trudeau has "completely disregarded the health and safety of Canadians by continuing to ignore the consequences of marijuana use, particularly where children and teenagers are concerned."
"We have seen several instances of this, including when he spoke at a school to children and teenagers about the legalization of marijuana, highly inappropriate and completely lacking in judgment which is par for the course with Justin Trudeau," she wrote.
The Liberals call the flyers a Conservative "distortion."
"Their charge is based on a distortion of a visit Mr. Trudeau made to Brandon during the recent byelection, when he spoke to an audience of high school students and adults at the Sioux Valley First Nation school," spokesman Cameron Ahmad said in an email.
"He responded to a question from the audience about legalization of marijuana, and iterated our position after explaining the dangers of drug use."
Ahmad said Trudeau has only ever spoken to two elementary schools since becoming Liberal leader: the one in Manitoba and one in Dryden, Ont., during a Skype chat this past March.
Trudeau did not discuss marijuana during the Dryden school Skype chat, Ahmad added.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said these sorts of accusations only work if they contain an element of truth.
"Had Trudeau not said anything about marijuana -- had he said that he was against its legalization -- and then had this come out, the Conservatives would have been pilloried from top to bottom," Wiseman said.
"But now they can say, 'No, no, no. These are the implications of what he's saying."'
Trudeau has said the Liberals would legalize marijuana if they form the next government.
He has also said that the drug is no worse than cigarettes or alcohol. And he has admitted to smoking pot one time since becoming an MP in 2008.
But the Liberal leader has also acknowledged the drug's harmful effects and has said legalization would make it more difficult -- not easier -- for children to get their hands on marijuana.
At the Manitoba school, Trudeau spoke about legalization. There is no evidence that he spoke about the "benefits of marijuana," as Fantino's flyer claims.
Nor is there any evidence that Trudeau has ever spoken about marijuana at any other school, counter to the flyer's claim that he "visited schools to tell kids that pot should be legal."
It would be accurate to say Trudeau visited a single school and, in response to a question about marijuana, said he favours legalization and controlling the drug.
Whether legalizing the drug would make it more accessible to minors is another question. Trudeau argues the current approach is not working and kids are still finding ways to get marijuana. He has not said his first order of business is to make the drug more accessible to minors, or that he wants to make buying it a normal, everyday activity for young Canadians.
For these reasons, the claims in Fantino's flyer contain "a lot of baloney."
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
No baloney -- the statement is completely accurate
A little baloney -- the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required
Some baloney -- the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing
A lot of baloney -- the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth
Full of baloney -- the statement is completely inaccurate