Quebecs New Government Will Raise the Legal Age of Weed to 21

Quebec\s New Government Will Raise the Legal Age of Weed to 21
New Quebec government has to make major change if it hopes to meet emissions targets, environmentalists say
The Ste-Anne native talks about his political evolution and how he will win over federalists who see him as a separatist in sheeps clothing.

François Legault is the premier-designate after a Coalition Avenir Québec wave swept through la belle province Oct. 1.

But the CAQ’s 74-seat majority victory came with little support — two east-end seats — from the island of Montreal, which remains a Liberal stronghold.

In a pre-election interview with the West Island Gazette, Legault, who grew up in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, talked about his own political evolution — from committed sovereignist to uncommitted federalist — and how he eventually plans to win over federalists who may still view him as a separatist in sheeps clothing.

Quebec plans to control sales of legal marijuana through state-run outlets, starting with 20 and moving up to 150. The CAQ, which is opposed to the legalization of cannabis, criticized that number: There will be even more [outlets] than there are St-Hubert restaurants in Quebec, the party said in a statement last year, referring to Quebecs best-known chicken chain.

Q: How can you convince federalists in Montreal and the West Island to look beyond your past as a PQ cabinet minister?

A: Of course, it will be easier in 2022 if they see I won’t do anything for the next four years. It will be easy. For me I will have all the anglophones with me in 2022. But for 2018, I have to convince them that I have no intention of touching the sovereignty subject and I think the proof is that in our 125 candidates, I would say at least half of them are coming from the Liberals. They’re used to voting for the Liberals. They have been federalists since forever, including my wife. (laughs).

Members of the newly elected CAQ government said last week that the party would push ahead with its promise to hike the legal consumption age to 21 even if it will be tough to adopt it in time for the Oct. 17 legalization roll-out. (Most provinces, including Ontario, have set the minimum age to 19. The defeated government of Philippe Couillard had put it at 18).

A: I think it’s about time we stopped having some proposals for francophones and some others for the anglophones. We all have to work together to stop receiving $11 billion of equalization payments (from the federal government) because we are not as rich as the rest of Canada. So we have to focus on the economy — the economy for anglophones, the economy for francophones. That’s why I started the CAQ. Because as a businessman, I’m not happy not being as rich as the rest of Canada. I think we can do better. We have very good schools — McGill or Université de Montréal — and we have to bring them closer to entrepreneurs. We have to reduce bureaucracy, including the time we need to have environmental authorization. I think it’s about time we start talking about the economy. Stop talking about language or stop talking about constitutional issues.”

Cannabis legalization may cause more worry in Quebec than elsewhere because the drug is simply less visible in day-to-day life on the streets. While medical marijuana storefronts proliferate on the streets of Toronto and Vancouver, Montreal is estimated to have a handful. Police quickly shut down a string of cannabis shops opened in 2016 by activist Marc Emery.

Q: Young anglos have changed since you and I were a growing up in the West Island. They are more bilingual now.

A: That’s right. For the young people, the language and the constitution is not an issue for them. They don’t care. What they want are good jobs, good services. That’s it, that’s all. And most of the people in the West Island are bilingual. So they don’t care. But it was different (here) when I was young.

Meanwhile, the public in the province has been bombarded with news reports about the health effects of cannabis, said Alain Giguère, of the polling firm CROP. His firm found in a poll that only one Quebecker in 10 said they had used cannabis in the previous year. For Canadians outside Quebec, it was one in six.

A: I don’t like that. No, I prefer to say that I’m nationalist. It’s Quebec first. So if I have choice of having a headquarters in Toronto in Montreal, I prefer it in Montreal. So Quebec first, but clearly within Canada.

Its pretty ironic, said Jean-Sébastien Fallu, a researcher on drug addiction at the University of Montreal who studies cannabis. On some moral questions, the Québécois are more permissive. On questions of drugs, theyre more conservative. Cannabis has been demonized.

A: We support the REM, the train from Montreal to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. I think it would be a very good project. And, of course, our proposals are related to issues that concern anglophones and everybody. We want to decrease taxes. And I think it’s about time that we stopped being the most taxed in North America. So it’s about time we manage with more efficiency. I’m a businessman. I used to run Air Transat, and in my (CAQ) team we have many people who use to run businesses. We have to run the government with more efficiency and make sure we can return money in people’s pockets.”

A: The issue of having only one business plan instead of two business plans, having one in Quebec, one in Ottawa . . . I’m an entrepreneur. I started Air Transat. If tomorrow you offered me a 100 per cent of the shares of a company or 25 per cent, I’d prefer 100 percent. That was the reason that brought me into the sovereignty project. But I realized that right now, since 50 years, Quebec is divided between sovereignists and federalists and during that time we didn’t focus enough on the economy. It was easy for the Liberals. They just had to say they were against the sovereignty of Quebec and that was their economic plan. Right now we need more than that. We need to create well-paid jobs, we need to change the role of Investissement Québec, we have to reduce the tax burden. I can promise you one thing, the economy will jump.

An Environics Analytics survey in July found that 39 per cent of Quebeckers supported legalization compared with 53 per cent of Canadians outside the province. Cannabis use had lower rates of social acceptance in Quebec than in the rest of Canada – 32 per cent against 46 per cent.

Quebec environmentalists are urging the new provincial government to come up with a clear plan to curb greenhouse gases in the wake of a gloomy international report on climate change.

François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec has committed to meeting the emissions targets outlined in the Paris agreement but has not said how that would be accomplished.

Quebeckers are more permissive on issues related to personal expression and the pursuit of pleasure, but not to the detriment of their health, Mr Giguère said. There is really a perception that we are playing with potential health problems.

During the election campaign, the CAQ scored lowest among Quebec's four main political parties in a report card prepared by environmental groups.

In particular, the party faced criticism for its commitment to build more suburban roads and a third link across the St. Lawrence River in Quebec City.

The new government of François Legault is set to make Quebec the most restrictive province in Canada for marijuana use, a cultural shift in a place traditionally viewed as the hedonism headquarters of the nation.

The CAQ's plan for public transit, which includes the extension of the Metro's Blue line and a tramway in the Montreal's east end, but no new Pink line, wasn't as ambitious as those of its rivals.

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Patrick Bonin, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada, said massive investments in public transit are necessary for the province to achieve its Paris agreement targets.

Specialists have been scratching their heads to understand why Quebeckers, with their liberal social attitudes and legendary joie de vivre, have been reticent about embracing the coming marijuana revolution.

"I think the CAQ has to make a major change if they want to respect this promise," said Bonin in an interview.

Now, the newly elected Coalition Avenir Québec government is promising to bring in a provincewide ban on cannabis use in public places and a hike in the consumption age to 21, the highest in Canada.

Quebec's cap-and-trade system, established in 2013, has helped curtail emissions produced by industry, environmentalists say, but those generated from transportation — such as cars and trucks — have continued to rise and now account for nearly half of the province's total output.

That's part of the reason Quebec isn't on track to meet the levels it committed to under the Paris agreement.

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By 2030, Quebec's emissions are supposed to be 37.5 per cent lower than they were in 1990. They are currently only about a quarter of the way there, at nine per cent below the 1990 level.

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A report issued Sunday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change detailed how Earth's weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if leaders across the world could somehow limit future human-caused warming to a half a degree Celsius.

Not everything about morality from the Church was rejected, Prof. Fallu said. When it comes to sex, fine. But drugs, no.

But meeting the more ambitious goal of slightly less warming would require immediate, major cuts in emissions, the report said.

Opinion polls suggest Quebeckers have more conservative attitudes than the rest of Canada when it comes to marijuana.

Steven Guilbeault, co-founder of the environmental non-profit organization Équiterre, said Quebec's Paris targets are close to what the report recommends on a local level. The goal now, he said, is to ensure they are met.

"What this report is basically saying is, 'That's good, but we need to go much faster.'"

Like Guilbeault, Bonin is hoping to see the new government act quickly, on a track different than the one seen during the campaign.

Legault said repeatedly that selling Quebec hydro power to the U.S. is one of the best ways Quebec can help curb emissions internationally — a claim contested by environmentalists who want to see more money in public transit.

During the campaign, Legault also disputed a body of academic research that has demonstrated expanding highways is not a solution to congestion and, in fact, only creates more traffic.

In a statement, the CAQ said it is studying the new international report "carefully," and it will offer more specifics once it officially takes the helm and names its cabinet next week.

"During the campaign, we committed to meeting the greenhouse gas reduction targets adopted by the international community," the statement said.

"We also intend to promote technological and regulatory innovations in this direction, and to promote the export of clean electricity to our Canadian and American neighbours, in order to replace production from gas, coal and nuclear power."

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