The struggle to get high

When I turn right off the highway onto the road where I live, there is a double yellow line to my left. This means that by law when I slow down to make the 90 degree turn...

When I turn right off the highway onto the road where I live, there is a double yellow line to my left. This means that by law when I slow down to make the 90 degree turn the driver behind me, if there is one, should slow down too, and remain behind me until I’m off the roadway. In more than three decades, I can hardy remember a single driver obeying this rule.

We like to pretend in our society that the law is an absolute, a dividing line between the respectable and the renegade. Hells Angels and hippies break the law, as do the desperate poor and the careless rich, but good middle class Canadians do not. In dismantling this fantasy, let’s skip past driving offenses, jaywalking, and violations of building ordinances to a crime connected with gangsters, bikers, and mandatory minimum jail sentences.

Canada leads the world in marijuana use, despite the fact that – according to the Internet – it costs between $150 and $300 an ounce to smoke the stuff. Poor people couldn’t afford to consume those world-leading quantities, and there aren’t enough rich people to do it, so clearly a significant proportion of the decent, law-abiding middle class is using marijuana.

All of which helps to explain why Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau favours legalizing and taxing marijuana, and why the former snowboarder acknowledges that not only did he try it in his youth (yeah, we guessed that, Justin) he smoked a joint with friends three years ago, while he was a sitting MP. At least we hope he was sitting, they say that stuff can make you dizzy. But why admit to breaking the law while in office? Because it’s a law that a lot of the middle class break, and Trudeau is all about the middle class.

CTV News restated a common theme this week when it reported that “Trudeau says his party will focus on addressing the economic challenges facing the middle class as it prepares to fight the next election.” The Globe and Mail Report on Business, in an attempt to define the middle class, sets the median income for Canadians at $68,000 per annum, where it has “stagnated” for four years. Others suggest that the middle class begins at a family income of $40,000.

No doubt some people are struggling on these incomes. If you have kids, a combined family income of $40K doesn’t buy a lot of luxuries. But what about the class of Canadians who fall below these figures? According to the Globe and Mail, three million Canadians live in poverty, including almost 600,000 children. Ten per cent of British Columbians have slept on the street or in a shelter, 25 per cent have used a food bank. In Ontario, the median income for single people has dropped from $28,600 to $25,500.

Middle class struggles are no joke. Millionaires like Justin Trudeau keep getting richer while the median income goes nowhere. Prices rise ahead of income and it can be tough to keep up, to make your mortgage payments and cover all the extra school expenses that used to come out of your taxes while coping with the high cost of weed. But millions of Canadians can only dream of such problems. They worry about where to sleep, or where to find enough to eat, or how to get out of ghetto neighbourhoods before their kids are lost forever.

Why does a political party choose to focus on the struggles of the better-off, and not on the poor? Simple really, the poor are far less likely to vote. Or as the Elections Canada web page puts it, “Higher education, employment and higher personal income were predictors of increased participation in the May 2011 general election.” As the NDP can attest, it’s hard to get elected in Canada by championing the poor, because the poor don’t have the time and energy for politics.

The Liberals have figured out that in addition to decent daycare and easier commuting a big part of the middle class wants good, legal, reasonably priced marijuana. A day after Trudeau admitted to smoking a joint, a National Post/Forum Research poll showed his party’s popularity had “surged” to 38 per cent, nine points ahead of the Conservatives, and leaving the NDP in the dust.

To address the struggles of the middle class, including the struggle to get high, is all very well, but it’s a poor substitute for political vision. For an example of vision, Trudeau and the modern-day Liberals might look back on one of Canada’s most successful politicians, one who, at least for a time, inspired the country, one who changed the political landscape forever.

His name was Trudeau too. He carried the polls for election after election, not by catering to the biggest voting class in the country, but with a simple, eloquent promise which we have yet to see realized: a just society.

Al Pope won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best columnist in 2013. He also won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.