My latest: passion over reason

Reason over passion.

Pierre Trudeau become famous for that one. Some academics claim that Trudeau actually said “reason before passion,” but it doesn’t really matter. The sentiment is clear.

Namely, that we should always be rational. Not emotional.

It was a nice sentiment, and one that people liked at the time. But it described a far-away world that we all aspire to live in. And not, you know, the world in which we actually do.

Because, down here on planet Earth, people continue to make a lot of important political decisions based on passion and their gut. Not reason, and certainly not intellect.

The most successful politicians understand this the best. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is one of them.

Earlier this week, when asked about the certifiably-insane decision to move convicted child murderer in Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison, Ford said this:

“He’s nothing but a scumbag. This SOB needs to be in jail 23 hours a day. As a matter of fact, I’d go one step further – that one hour he’s out, he should be in general population. That’s what should happen to this SOB.”

In effect, Ford was likely calling for Bernardo to be killed. That’s what often happens when “skins” – sex offenders – get placed with other inmates. They get killed.

“Visceral and vituperative,” the Toronto Star’s editorial board sniffed, alliteratively. Ford was “bellowing,” the Star tut-tutted.

Elsewhere in the pages of the Toronto Star, someone with the John Howard Society – an organization that advocates for prisoners – said that “public hatred of a prisoner should not justify harsher confinement.”

Similarly, a bureaucrat who formerly oversaw the federal prison system told the Star that such prison transfers “should not be based on revenge… we, as a country, gave up torture quite a while ago.”

See that? If you are upset about a man who raped and tortured children being sent to an “open campus model” prison – well, you are a vengeful, visceral and vituperative monster who favors torture.

As such, you’re probably opposed to Bernardo getting “stress management training” at his new home. They offer that there. (More family visits and “recreation and leisure time,” too.)

So, the Toronto Star editorial board and some special interest types are okay with Paul Bernardo getting a nicer place to rest his head at night. But I’ll wager most Canadians aren’t. When pressed, most of them probably side with Doug Ford.

That’s because politicians like Ford are better at what political consultants call “the values proposition.” That is, when discussing values – hopes, fears, the ineffable stuff of life and death – conservative-minded politicians do better. Progressive politicians get tongue-tied.

A few years ago, for my book Fight the Right, I predicted that the Tea Party movement would take over the Republican Party. And that the Tea Party’s erstwhile leader, Donald Trump, would become a lot more powerful as a result.

Ironically, some Democratic Party thinkers agreed with me.

Stanley B. Greenberg, a US pollster who was married to a Democratic Party congresswoman, noted that “voters are generally turning to conservative and right-wing political parties, most notably in Europe and in Canada.” Why?

Because, he said, voters believe “government operates by the wrong values and rules, for the wrong people and purposes. The people I’ve surveyed believe the government rushes to help the irresponsible, and does little for the responsible.”

Another notable American progressive, Geoffrey Nunberg, agreed. Said he: “The Right is better at values. The Right has a natural advantage, in the modern context, because a lot of the issues they are promoting are emotional issues.” Canadian progressives, like American progressives, Nunberg told me, are basically “clueless” on the values stuff.

Which is why Doug Ford hasn’t really experienced much blowback about his comments on Paul Bernardo’s fate. Because progressives know, deep in their beating (and bleeding) hearts, that anyone who rapes and tortures and murders children on video has forfeited his life. Period.

So, sorry, Mr. Trudeau. Reason over passion is fine.

But Paul Bernardo still deserves an hour in general population.

And most of us would be there to cheer. Passionately.

My latest: drugs won the war on drugs

WINLAW, B.C. — At the intersection of Hwy. 33 and Winlaw Blvd., the morning shift has gathered on picnic tables closer to the road. It’s sunny and clear and early morning.

They’re not far from Mama Cita’s restaurant, the men are, but none of them are eating anything. They’re smoking lots of cigarettes and talking quietly.

Asked about them later on, a longtime Winlaw resident nods. “They’re there every morning,” the resident says. “Some of them are there to sell drugs.”

Another resident, one who worked at some other eatery up 33, nods. “I worked at the competition,” the resident says. “It’s closed now. Owned by a drugs guy. For laundering (money) and whatnot.”

Winlaw is unincorporated and less than an hour’s drive from Nelson, B.C. It has a population of 297 people. That’s it.

The diminutive size of Winlaw notwithstanding, the place — like so many other places in Canada, big and small — is struggling with addiction and death and what to do about both. The debate about what to do is seen everywhere, even here in little Winlaw.

On the counter at Mama Cita’s, where the locals line up for coffee — it’s the only place around to do so, really — there are some pamphlets and buttons arranged off to the side. “Safe supply now,” says a button.

The pamphlets, meanwhile, advertise a long-distance run by the mother of Aubrey Michalofsky, a smiling, genial, local boy who died just outside of Nelson. Of an overdose. Age 25.

His mother Jessica previously ran 900 times around the Ministry of Health in Victoria to draw attention to toxic drug deaths. This May, she was running across the province.

Of her son, she told the local paper: “Aubrey was born and raised in Nelson, lived as an adult in the Slocan Valley and attended school at Selkirk College in Castlegar, where he graduated with a diploma in law and justice 2021.”

Aubrey’s mom wants to regulate illicit drugs and she’s not alone. In Toronto, here in B.C. and elsewhere, many people are declaring that drugs won the war on drugs. And they want safe supply. Regulation, no prohibition.

Except there’s a problem with that. In Toronto, for example, the decision of city council to distribute branded crack pipes to addicted people hasn’t really resolved the problem at all. In 2021, for example, nearly 600 people died from opioid overdoses in Canada’s largest city. Two a day, just about. That’s more than double the number of deaths in 2019.

Here in B.C., the situation is just as bad, if not worse. In April alone, more than 200 people died across the province. In towns and cities big and small, like Winlaw.

After a while, people get desensitized by the drug death statistics. They turn away. And so when someone says it’s time to legalize drugs — including the ones that kill kids like Aubrey — they say: Why not? Nothing else has worked. Maybe try that.

Except, except — it feels wrong. It feels like exhaustion, not a solution. It feels like we are just giving up on people and calling it enlightenment.

As elsewhere, the debate about legalizing drugs is raging in Toronto. It’s become a big issue in the mayoral race, propelling our former Sun colleague Anthony Furey into the double digits in the polls — largely because Furey wants to ditch the taxpayer-funded drug kits and end the safe-injection sites.

Like many others, this writer has some sympathy for Furey’s position.

For starters, experiments with legalization in other places mostly haven’t worked. In Britain, for example, it simply increased the number of people addicted to heroin.

Same with Australia, Netherlands and so on: When a dangerous drug is illegal, the price goes up. Higher prices are a deterrent for use, whether the substance is heroin or booze.

That’s not all. As the “harm reduction” name literally implies, the misuse of many drugs is harmful. And reduction of harm is not the same thing as elimination of harm.

Statistics get bandied about by both sides. But the overall cost isn’t disputed by either side. As the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy says, illegal drugs cost that country nearly $200 billion yearly in lost productivity, crime and health-care expenditures.

If they’re legal, would that number drop by much? Probably not, say experts.

But statistics are for liars and politicians. To many, to this writer, legalizing hard drugs simply feels like we are giving up on our fellow citizens. That we are shrugging and looking away.

Yes, the “war on drugs” has been a failure. Yes, some legalization programs have showed promise. Yes, the loss of even one life is one too many. Yes.

But there’s a reason why Furey is getting heads in agreement. That needs to be remembered.

Aubrey, too. He — and those like him — need to always be remembered.