National Column: Another display of smooth fluency

by Paul Wells

When travelling, it’s handy to show some fluency in local dialects. “We are of course very alert to the challenges posed by the Southern Resident killer whale pod,” Justin Trudeau said on Thursday, cool as a cucumber, as he stood on the dock at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, just outside Victoria.

Of course he is. The Southern Resident killer whales, as you know, are listed as endangered. Shipping perturbs their habitat, especially big tankers. The prime minister of course is very alert to these challenges, as he was alert to the challenges of non-binary computation when he visited the Institute for Quantum Computing. He takes a briefing, this guy does. He told reporters – most of them local; I just happened to be in Victoria – that he is always on the lookout for ways to “make the existing situation better for those vulnerable marine mammals.”

He meant the killer whales, not the reporters, although after waiting an hour in light rain for the big guy to show up, we were feeling vulnerable and somewhat marine ourselves.

Trudeau was in the British Columbia capital for no particular reason.

He’d been in Calgary the day before, would be in Vancouver the next day, and it is always good to wave the flag when you’re an incumbent who hopes to remain one indefinitely. He went for a run with navy sailors. He met Victoria’s mayor. He took our questions, which were varied.

If he had a theme, it was the virtues of patience. Will he decriminalize marijuana while he looks for ways to legalize it? Not on your life. He hopes for a bill on the matter by the summer. In the meantime, he will not relax strictures against the demon weed because, he says, his goal is to get tougher on it, not easier.

This is why he never speaks about “legalizing” without adding ” … and controlling and regulating.” His goal when he first raised legalization (and control and regulation) was “to protect our kids” and to get “money out of the pockets of criminals.” Right now, “It’s easier to buy a joint for a teenager than it is to buy a bottle of beer. That’s not right.”

This is in keeping with the tone of cross-country consultations on legalization led by Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief turned member of Parliament. Blair’s Twitter feed is my favourite entertainment these days. It features a steady diet of photos of Blair meeting uniformed police officers and sitting for interviews with Chinese-language news organizations, many of whose readers and viewers are leery about this whole business. Most days, Blair does not even mention legalization anymore, preferring to save Twitter characters by talking about “cannabis regulation.” When a bill comes down this June, we will find out what it’s like to barely legalize a substance.

That’s if there is even a bill in June. There is no rule against delaying hard decisions, is there? Another question facing Trudeau was about Canadian peacekeeping. It is now officially a month since news reports said the United Nations had held open the command of the UN mission in Mali since December, in hopes that a Canadian would be assigned to lead it.

It was already getting to be a long wait by the beginning of February. Now it’s March, and getting ridiculous.

A month ago, the story was that all such decisions were on hold while Harjit Sajjan waited to meet his new U.S. counterpart, Jim Mattis. That meeting has come and gone, and the suspense is – well, actually the suspense isn’t killing us or anyone else, which may be why Trudeau is content to let it endure. A mission in Mali could very well kill any soldiers who are sent there. They wouldn’t be nearly the first.

“The commitment that we’ve made to re-engaging with United Nations peacekeeping is one that I think all Canadians are proud of,” Trudeau said.

So when do they go? Oh-ho, the question assumes they are going. “We’re going to make sure that we take the time necessary to establish the right path forward for Canada,” Trudeau said.

The UN might as well find someone else to lead the force in Mali.

Ten weeks after the mission’s last commander went home to Copenhagen, the Canadians are clearly in no rush.

Paul Wells is a national affairs writer. His column appears Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services