“I want gay married couples to be able to protect their marijuana plants with guns.”
They’re both left-wing and right-wing. They steadfastly oppose anti-terrorism legislation such as Bill C-51, advocate for legalizing drugs and prostitution, and promote a non-interventionist foreign policy. Yet this same group also wants to allow private healthcare, decrease taxes, and make it easier to obtain guns.
What could be behind this seeming paradox? The Libertarian Party of Canada. The above quote is from party leader Tim Moen, and features in political advertising that has taken the Internet by storm in… the United States of America.
Will they be able to garner similar adoration here in Canada in time for the federal election on October 19?
The Straight recently spoke with two Libertarian candidates running here in Metro Vancouver to get their views: Bonnie Hu, a 22-year-old female of Chinese descent who immigrated to Canada as a youth and is contesting political office for the first time; and John Clarke, a 64-year-old Caucasian male who has run numerous times for both the federal and provincial Libertarians since 1984.
“I became interested in the ideas of individual rights and personal freedom,” said Clarke during a telephone interview. “The Libertarian Party is the only [party] in Canada that supports that.”
Both candidates discovered the libertarian philosophy—based upon small government, low taxes and minimal regulations—at a young age. Clarke stumbled upon it while in high school during the mid-1960s, while Hu came across libertarianism on internet forums.
“There were some teenagers discussing it, and I thought it was pretty cool,” said Hu in an interview with the Straight.
The Libertarians are considered a fringe party here in Canada, although they have amassed an impressive 72 candidates for the 2015 election. Will this be enough to make a breakthrough on October 19?
“We're taking votes away from the other parties for sure,” said Hu, who is running in the suburban riding of South Surrey-White Rock. “Mostly Conservatives, but [from] all the others too.”
And how do Libertarians feel about Harper’s Conservatives?
“Libertarians oppose the basic thing of the Conservative Party—which is their taxing, their regulating,” said Clarke, who is running in the Vancouver Centre riding. “And in terms of foreign policy, bombing Libya is a completely un-libertarian act.”
Hu agreed. “They're tough on... victimless crime, like drug offences, that we disagree with.”
“I could never support someone who wants to sit back with a beer like Harper, and jail somebody else for smoking marijuana,” said Clarke. “He’s not someone I could ever, ever support.”
Unlike the Conservatives, who take pride in their “tough on drugs” stance, the Libertarians offer a strikingly different policy: they advocate for the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of all other drugs. Clarke is of the opinion that drug prohibition is the cause of many social ills in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“There’s a reign of terror on drug users down there,” he said. “[Prohibition] is not going to stop them, it just makes their lives incredibly miserable, and they have to [pay] a huge black-market price for a very inferior product, and a lot of them end up killing themselves with this inferior product. It’s just a catastrophe.
“It’s like the first principle of medicine, which is ‘first, do no harm.’ That’s what the government’s principle should be,” said Clarke. “So the first thing will be to reduce the death toll.”
Would a softer stance on drugs lead to an increase in usage?
“No, I don't think so,” said Hu, “because in countries where it is decriminalized, drug use has actually gone down.”
Regarding healthcare, the Libertarians are interested in allowing for more choice—particularly for the private sector.
“We want private alternatives to health care," said Hu, "so the government should be involved less in public health care.”
Clarke shared this perspective.
“It would be entirely voluntary, just like our food supply system,” he said. “The government doesn’t look after our food supply, so the government shouldn’t be looking after our health care.”
Regarding other social programs, the Libertarian candidates didn’t mince their words.
“We should cut spending on low-income assistance,” said Hu. “I don't believe in the government supports and hand-outs [people with disabilities] are getting. They should get help from private sources.”
Climate change is another topic where the party’s candidates hold opinions that may shock some voters. Neither Clarke nor Hu were convinced that human actions have been responsible for the planet’s warming trend.
“What exactly all these factors are that govern the climate is a really good question,” said Clarke. “But the current theories of man-made carbon don’t hold any water, as far as I’m concerned.”
Hu explained that the Libertarians believe private citizens can file lawsuits if they think someone or something is causing climate change.
“I don't think climate change is that much of an issue, so we should leave the government out of it,” she said.
The subject of terrorism is one where the Libertarians seem more like a left-wing party. The interviewed candidates felt that terrorism was being used by the Conservatives as a wedge issue to gain votes.
“It's overblown. I haven't seen any jihadists in my bedroom,” said Hu.
“Compared with car accidents, which kill 3,500 people a year, [terrorism] is not an issue. I think more of an issue is [Bill C-51]… it’s very vaguely worded, and I don’t approve of that kind of legislation.”
Hu had similar thoughts about government invading the privacy of its citizens.
“[The Conservatives] stand for big government, and they want more surveillance through Bill C-51,” she said. "I don't believe people should be under surveillance…. people should be able to expect basic [rights] like privacy.”
And as for the niqab?
“I think people should be free to wear whatever they want,” said Clarke.
On the subject of immigration and asylum seekers, Hu said that Libertarians would be welcoming.
“I think there should be more immigrants,” she said. “We should screen people to avoid people who have criminal records with violence or fraud, but other than that we should be welcoming.”
And as for refugees seeking to come to Canada?
“We should let them in faster,” said Hu.
Regarding arts and culture, both Hu and Clarke want to see an end to government subsidies.
“I think the government should absolutely stay out of the art business,” said Clarke. “Government should not be involved in promoting art. You get some pretty dreadful art if you have government interference.”
Both Libertarian candidates advocate for the termination of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and oppose Canadian content quotas.
“I don't think it would result in fewer artists,” said Hu. “People create art because they want to.”
Clarke holds a similar perspective about music regulation.
“I listen to stuff over the Internet… you get the music you want,” he said. “I want to listen to some Latin reggae and it’s not big in Canada. I’m going to listen to the genre that I like, and I certainly don’t want to pay people to get me to listen to Gordon Lightfoot.”
The Libertarian candidates were asked their opinion about the Conservatives’ (perhaps ironically titled) “Fair Elections Act,” which requires that voters produce more identification to vote than during previous elections, and prevents Elections Canada from encouraging people to vote.
“It was better before,” said Hu. “Too much red tape to require so much ID.”
And why does she think that the Conservatives have toughened the identification requirements for voting?
“I think it would benefit Conservatives, because they tend to have older voters who think voting is more important,” she said.
As with all of the so-called “fringe” political parties in Canada, the first-past-the-post electoral system is a major barrier to the Libertarian Party winning seats in the House of Commons. A voting system that results in proportional representation could enable the Libertarians to elect several Members of Parliament.
“We want to see [electoral reform],” said Hu, “because with the current system, we have to vote for the lesser of two evils through strategic voting, and we don't want to see that anymore.”
Hu was also critical of screening procedures—often referred to colloquially as the “green-light process”—that the four larger political parties use when scrutinizing prospective election candidates. This process was used by the Liberals to prevent Jodie Emery from representing their party in Vancouver East. Numerous other would-be candidates also did not receive approval to run in the election for the larger political parties, due to posts on social media that were deemed to be risqué.
“I think it's stupid,” said Hu. “People should be able to run for office no matter what they've done in the past. I think they should still be able to run.”
On the topic of Indigenous peoples, the Libertarian candidates were sympathetic to the devastating effects of colonization and residential schools.
“The whole idea of compulsory [residential] schooling is kidnapping children,” said Clarke. “That’s very un-libertarian. We don’t support that at all. That was horrible.
“As far as different cultures, that’s right up the libertarians’ alley,” he said. “We believe in different cultures, and have no problem with other people having a tax-free reserve. That’s quite libertarian—we’re all in favour of that.”
Hu agreed that Indigenous people should have more control over their own affairs.
“They can make their own laws,” she said. “More local concerns would be addressed better. Regulations should be at the lowest level.”
However, both candidates felt that the Canadian government should limit its actions in regards to addressing historical exploitation.
“To try to remedy all these past injustices that happened centuries ago… I’d say that there’s the concept of statute of limitations on it,” said Clarke.
While the Libertarians are generally known for advocating against gun regulations, the two city-slickers interviewed by the Straight weren’t passionate about the topic.
“Personally I'm not interested in guns and it's not a very popular policy [in Metro Vancouver],” said Hu. “But for people in Alberta, for example, they like guns more, so it's still part of our platform.”
And although Libertarians generally disapprove of regulations, Clarke was tolerant of keeping guns away from convicted criminals.
“I think that people have the right to own a gun,” he said. “Not if, say, you’re a criminal—you’re banned from owning guns… I definitely agree with that.”
Much like Conservatives, Libertarians are known for promoting low taxes. But given that Harper’s government added a 12-figure amount ($127 billion) to Canada’s national debt since taking power in 2006, the two Libertarian candidates were asked which they held as their priority: lowering taxes or reducing the national debt.
“It’s actually a fact that these government debts are not going to be paid back,” said Clarke. “It’s unrealistic to suppose that they can run up huge debts and pay them back. They going to either renege them outright, or inflate them away… they’re not going to pay them back. They can’t.”
Clarke also scoffed at the notion that future generations should pay for current and past Canadians’ largesse.
“If you’re born, and you find out when you grow up that you owe a huge amount of money that somebody else borrowed… Libertarians can’t support this idea that somebody else obligated you to slave away during your life to pay off debts that you never contracted yourself in the first place,” he said.
Hu offered her thoughts on getting young Canadian voters more engaged in their democracy, and why many of them don’t vote.
“Because we don't have online voting,” she said. “I think that should be implemented, so that people can vote from their own homes instead of going out.”
But for now, the Libertarian Party will still need to entice potential supporters to brick-and-mortar voting booths. Will the party be able to do so in sufficient numbers?
“The gun policy and healthcare policies aren't very popular,” said Hu, “because Canadians want things to be how it is now. I think they haven't thought things through. They just like the status quo.”