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Sopuck's smoke screen

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Tory MP Bob Sopuck says Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wants kids to buy pot at their local 7-Eleven.
That's such a silly accusation, it sounds like an Onion headline. But that's the gist of a flyer mailed out recently to voters in Sopuck's Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette riding. In the flyer, which features a moppy-haired pre-teen lighting a joint, Sopuck declares Trudeau wants to display and sell pot in local stores and make it easier for kids to smoke marijuana.
The flyer is one of the infamous ten percenters, and arguably the most ridiculous one yet. The Tories are prolific abusers of the mailing privileges that allow MPs to use taxpayer funds to blanket their ridings in hyper-partisan flyers, most of which only demonize the opposition and do little to promote Tory policies.
Sopuck's mailer is one the Tories have been using for some time, in various forms. It popped up in the recent batch of Ontario byelections and in a New Brunswick riding. Closer to home, the Tories used Trudeau's pot policies to bludgeon the Liberals in the Brandon-Souris byelection late last year. And, most recently, a Tory MP sent the very same mailer to voters in her Vancouver riding.
The CBC did a good job debunking some of the more egregious falsehoods here, including the charge Trudeau visits schools to promote legalization, a charge that originated right here in Manitoba. I won't redo the debunking except to say there is absolutely no evidence, not even some ambiguous gaffe, that Trudeau wants kids to smoke pot or buy a dime bag at the Swan Valley Co-op. In fact, Trudeau has said the exact opposite. The flyer takes what's true - Trudeau smoked pot as an MP, and, like most Canadians, favours legalization - and uses it to make lies sound plausible. 
So why would Bob Sopuck put his name on such baloney? He's a partisan, who often rises in the House to rag on media elites and left-wingers who can't manage the economy or who coddle communists. But, as I've written before, he's also a smart, experienced, scientific guy who has spent much of his life in public service and has a warm and affable demeanour. And, he's an adult. Most adults find this kind of behaviour cringe-worthy. Plus, he represents one of the safest Tory ridings in Canada. D-SR-M did go Liberal in the Chretien years, but it's hard to imagine it going Grit again, despite the close call south in Brandon-Souris. Sopuck doesn't need to diminish himself and his relationship with his constituents this way.
So why did he?
Sopuck said he has genuine concerns about the health effects of widespread marijuana use he says would follow legalization, and Trudeau hasn't been taken to task for the implications of his idea. In fact, he said Trudeau is an intellectual lightweight whose few policies go unchallenged. 
"What does concern me is this policy lightweight is rarely ever scrutinized," said Sopuck. "I'm a policy person, and I want to challenge the opposition parties on their policies."
But, the MP could not point to any evidence Trudeau "wants to display and sell pot in local stores" or that "his agenda would make it easier for kids to get and smoke marijuana." Instead, the MP who values evidence and reason relied on conjecture and exageration.
"Once the availability becomes much more widespread, it will happen," said Sopuck. "Obviously, kids will get it."
That's not obvious at all, and it's not the point, anyway. What is obvious is the Tories long ago traded real debate for laughable fearmongering and it's time decent MPs like Sopuck, even hyper-partisan ones, refuse to play along. 

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About Mary Agnes Welch

Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first covering city hall and then the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter. Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.

Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school. She has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category.

She was a Southam journalism fellow at the University of Toronto’s Massey College in 2012-13, where she studied indigenous issues, urban planning and political science. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists and has served on several boards.

She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.


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