Saturday, June 27, 2009

Curbing drug abuse

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

So far this year, London police and RCMP officers have conducted more than 80 raids on illegal marijuana growers within the city, and seized tens of millions of dollars worth of plants. Other municipalities across the province are in the throes of a similar law-enforcement struggle.
Is it time, then, to give up on the war on drugs? Should Parliament and the Ontario Legislature not frankly acknowledge that at least in the case of marijuana, prohibition for recreational use is plainly not working?
Most definitely not. Marijuana is not harmless. Despite the contrary claims of infatuated pot heads, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that cannabis is no less dangerous to life and health than alcohol and tobacco.
Perhaps so, some might argue, but alcohol and tobacco are legally produced and sold. Why not marijuana as well? Why should the Ontario government forgo the huge revenues it could gain by taxing and selling marijuana through government-controlled outlets like the LCBO?
The answer is, or should be, obvious: Addiction to alcohol and tobacco ruins the life and health of tens of thousands of Canadians every year. No legislator with a prudent regard for the health and wellbeing of Canadians would compound these problems by legalizing marijuana as well.
Granted, the suppression of marijuana production and consumption is a never-ending and expensive proposition. But the same is true of any major law-enforcement operation. The police expend vast resources in a perpetual effort to enforce the highway traffic act, yet no one would suggest that the Ontario Legislature should give up the struggle and legalize speeding, careless driving or any of the other all-too-frequent traffic infractions.
Besides, the aim of the police is not to eliminate crime altogether, but to curtail it at reasonable cost. By this standard, there is no reason for police, educational and health authorities to give up on the struggle to curtail marijuana trafficking, addiction and abuse.
Certainly, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino is not about to surrender in the war on drugs. On a recent radio call-in show, he maintained that Ontario police are doing a good job of holding down the number of marijuana grow-ops. Last year, his force dismantled 499 of them, seized 211,919 marijuana plants, removed more than $264 million drugs from circulation and brought 4,700 charges against 2,400 people.
Moreover, there is evidence that the combined efforts of health, education and law-enforcement officials to combat drug abuse is paying off. According to the latest data on drug use among Ontario students compiled by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the proportion of students in Grades 7, 9 and 11 who admitted to having used cannabis at least once in the past year was 22 per cent in 2007, down slightly from 23.9 per cent in 1997, but significantly below the peak of 29.1 per cent in 1979.
While the great majority of Ontario students use cannabis only occasionally or not at all, CAMH estimates that an alarming 10 per cent use the drug on a daily basis and may already have developed a problem with cannabis dependence.
Meanwhile, there has been a dramatic reduction in tobacco smoking among Ontario students. According to CAMH, the proportion who report that they have smoked tobacco in the past year was just 11 per cent in 2007, down from 27 per cent in 1997 and a peak of 35 per cent in 1979.
The McGuinty Liberal government deserves much of the credit. In 2005, it initiated a Smoke Free Ontario Campaign that featured tougher enforcement of the ban on tobacco sales to anyone under 19 as well as an unprecedented $50 million in funding for enhanced health and educational programs to combat tobacco smoking.
Clearly, this Ontario anti-smoking campaign has been a huge success. While continuing to discourage tobacco smoking, the Ontario government should now focus on a stepped-up campaign to combat the even greater menace posed by marijuana. At stake is the life and health of literally hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, in Ontario.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Misguided bailouts

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

So far this year, the governments of Canada and Ontario have handed over $9.6 billion to the failing General Motors and Chrysler corporations. For the people of Ontario, that works out to more than $2,500 for every family of four.
In defence of these whopping corporate bailouts, Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty insisted on Monday that he and his government colleagues had no choice: “The auto sector sustains thousands of current jobs for Ontario families and supports the pensions of many of our retirees,” he said. “That's why we're partnering with the federal and United States governments to put the industry on a more sustainable footing for the long term."
There can be little doubt that without government support, GM and Chrysler would have closed down all their operations in Canada. As a result, many related car dealerships, auto supply firms and other companies would also have gone out of business. Ontario government officials peg the total job loss in the province at 85,000.
But is that a compelling argument for the bailouts? In April, there were 5,283,200 full-time workers in Ontario, down 184,500 from a year earlier. Yet the governments of Canada and Ontario offered no corporate bailouts to prevent any of these job losses. Why should the workers whose jobs depend on GM and Chrysler qualify for special treatment?
Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe is at a loss for an answer. Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, he pointed out that over the past two years, 50,000 jobs have been lost in the forestry sector in Canada, with half of those job losses in Quebec. Yet in this year’s federal budget, the Harper government has provided only $270 million for corporate handouts to the forestry industry.
Regardless, the federal Liberals and New Democrats support the Conservative government’s record auto-sector bailouts. And the reason is clear: Unlike the Bloc Quebecois, the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats are all vying to win or retain seats in Ontario that include hundreds of voters who are employed in the auto industry.
This overriding political consideration also explains the abandonment by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of his promise to do away with corporate bailouts during the 2004 election campaign. At that time, he pointed out: “It doesn't matter how many millions or hundreds of millions of dollars a Liberal-NDP coalition will be willing to give the auto industry to win an election … their reckless use of taxpayers' dollars will make us less competitive.”
Quite so. Who would have thought that within five years, a Harper Conservative government would squander billions of dollars in corporate welfare on GM and Chrysler, alone?
Note also that as a condition for receiving $10.5 billion in additional handouts from the governments of Ontario and Canada, GM Canada has agreed to make an immediate payment of $4 billion toward the $7-billion shortfall in the company’s insolvent, gold-plated pension plan. How can that be? Are not all companies in Ontario required by law to keep their defined-benefit pension plans solvent?
Not exactly. During the recession of 1992, the Ontario New Democratic Party government of former premier Bob Rae helped sustain GM Canada, by granting the company an exemption from the full-funding requirement for its pension plan. With the support of the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW), that exemption has remained in effect ever since.
Even when GM Canada was racking up profits over the past 15 years, both management and union agreed to improve promised pension benefits rather than return the plan to solvency. For the Harper and McGuinty governments now to shore up that insolvent plan at a cost to taxpayers of $4 billion is entirely unjustifiable, especially inasmuch as three-quarters of private-sector workers have no pension plan.
Clearly, while it’s politics, not considerations of economics, equity or justice, that has dictated the billions of dollars in auto-sector bailouts, will taxpayers get at least some of that money back?
Harper says he is not counting on it. Neither should anyone else.