Interview with Gary Beamish – Green Party

You’re involved with Legalize It Tax It—could you explain what that is for those who don’t know?

Well I was asked after the last provincial election to hold a unified conference of various advocacy groups. We certainly know about medical marijuana, and the advocacy groups for medical marijuana are right out there, front and centre, getting lots of press. The federal government, unfortunately, has made it very difficult to get medical marijuana. My oldest son was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of four, and by five Sick Kids Hospital was giving him medicinal marijuana. That was back in 1990. Now people in need have to buy it. When you’re not well, suffering from a chronic illness, you don’t have tons of cash to throw around! The solution before was for people to grow their own, but the federal government has decided that any non-medical possession is an automatic six months in jail.

What’s really nasty and insincere about this is that this is down loading. Municipalities pay for the police, all jail sentences under two years are paid for by the province. So the federal government passes a law, and then makes everyone else pay for the enforcement of it. So my emphasis on the Legalize It and Tax It movement is basically the same argument that could be made when alcohol was illegal: organized crime was making billions of dollars, government was not.

The sad thing is even certain American states are ahead of us on this. I was in Victoria last year and all I had to do was take the ferry across to the American side and I could have purchased to my heart’s content. It used to be you had to fill out medical forms in Colorado. The most frequent medical condition was halitosis—the scientific term for bad breath. It was a mockery, but to keep the federal government happy they were doing that. It’s discouraging that Canada, who used to be way ahead in all kinds of things … do you know the tourism we got here by legalizing same-sex unions. There was a massive tourist trade that came up from New York State to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Because of our rather tolerant attitude, a couple hundred thousand draft dodgers came up here during the Vietnam War. We used to gain people but lately we’ve been falling behind.

So I think it’s only a matter of time. The federal government passed the law, Quebec, Ontario, and BC have all said they will not enforce this law within their borders. What happened when alcohol was legalized was the price dropped considerably and the quality went up. You didn’t have people going blind drinking the wrong type of alcohol made improperly. I would say also we only have better price and lower quality to look forward to once legalization kicks in.

If you look at your average drug user they’re white, male, middle-aged, employed—and I don’t mean just as the mayor of Toronto. This could help us balance the provincial budget, and why not? President Obama recently said that alcohol is far worse than marijuana. A third of people in US prisons are there for minor possession. What an incredible drain on society. So we have a chance and we’ve been speaking out on many occasions to emphasize Legalize It and Tax It. We still find the provinces are willing to look the other way [with regard to the federal law], but they’re overlooking a huge source of revenue.

You mentioned it is the federal government that makes this legislation, so what can be done at the provincial level? Why not pursue this in the federal election?

It’s the same thing as in the United States. The federal drug enforcement agency (DEA) is still foaming at the mouth vis-à-vis drugs, but Colorado, Idaho, and Washington state have all said “well that’s just fine but we’re legalizing it here.” It’s being sold now in open retail stores. It’s an issue just like health care. Federal government has its health department, but it wasn’t until Saskatchewan was the first jurisdiction in 1946 that brought about socialized medicine, and now it’s just a given. Do you want to wait until there’s an election in 2015 federally? We can change it now at the provincial level.

There was an article published in the Peterborough Examiner in which you were quoted as saying you’re going to be a nuisance candidate. What do you mean by that?

Well you can see from that article that I took on the local hospital, took them to the Health Professional Review Board. Because I live out in the east part of the riding I have a choice in hospitals—I can go to Campbellford or I can go to Belleville—and I’ve only been to the Peterborough hospital twice since the last provincial election. Each time I was really discouraged with the poor quality of care. I went into the sleep labs, I woke up, and a prescription had been written while I was asleep. I knew right off the bat you can’t legally do that. I have to be present, more than just physically—I have to be conscious. The doctor hadn’t consulted me at all, and of course it was wrong. I called the hospital administration, spoke to three different levels of administrators, I said “look, this is wrong, I need to be able to speak to the specialist.” The third person I spoke to was again rudely dismissive, so I said fine, I will go to the hospital, wait for this doctor to come out of the sleep lab, and I will tell him what the problem is. It turns out he’s a really nice guy. I never met him but he wrote me a nice apology in the end. Anyway the administrator said to me “if we catch you in the hospital and you’re not there to see a patient and you don’t have an appointment security will escort you out of the building.” The hospital is a public building! How can you kick me out of a public building if I’m not making a disturbance?

Well that’s pretty arrogant and high handed. So we have arrogant out of control administrators. The head of the Peterborough Hospital, incidentally, gets paid more than the Prime Minister of Canada. They give themselves these huge salaries, consume resources, and the people who need the resources aren’t getting them. We have several parasitic levels of bureaucracy that are consuming our health dollars and giving us practically nothing in return.

Once every ten years I will read a book called the World Almanac that has facts and figures for the whole world. Americans spend 15% of their GDP on health care. Europeans spend 6-7%. Canadians are at 9.8, 9.9%. We want an American style system, but we’re obviously not funding it. An American style system is one that’s incredibly top-heavy with bureaucracy, incredibly top-heavy with machines and capital assets. I wouldn’t want to see our health care costs go up by 50%. I want to keep us with the European model where you’re spending a lot less, but you don’t have the bureaucrats hauling in hundreds of thousands of dollars for no other reason than to be bean counters. We need more money to go the front lines and less money to go to the … should we call them arm-chair generals who are nowhere near the battle front?

That brings me to a broader ideological question. The Ontario Green Party is interesting in that you adhere to the 10 Key Values of all Green parties, but you also embrace entrepreneurship and has a deep respect for the free market. I was wondering how you reconcile those seemingly distant ideologies.

There used to be a party on the Federal scene called the Progressive Conservatives. They supposedly merged with the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance. The people who were progressives were the Red Tories and Elizabeth May used to be a Green Tory. I first joined the Green Party when I was a member of the Progressive Conservatives, and I joined as a Green Conservative. When the amalgamation happened there was no longer room in the broad-tent PC party for people who were progressives. People would often tease the progressive conservatives—how can you be both progressive and conservative at the same time? The Green Party in Ontario would say we want to be progressive when it comes to social issues, but when it comes to fiscal issues the word conservation comes into play. When it comes to fiscal matters we are the inheritor of the Progressive Conservative mantle. We want to be capitalists with a conscience! There’s a few of us out there!

When you think of most companies these days they exploit the workforce terribly. I see it in my income tax business a lot. Three weeks ago I was doing them for a person who had to train her replacement from the Philippines and then get cut to three shifts every two weeks. How are you going to live on that? Another woman I was doing taxes for was a mobile phlebotomist in the Toronto area, her company gave everyone the option to work as either a self-employed subcontractor and you’re no longer an employee of the company, or you can take severance. They all took severance because they simply couldn’t live on the money the company was offering.

There are a lot of businesses out there that seem to have no conscience when it comes to the decades of loyal service their employees give them. But there are good ones too, and it is possible to be progressive and conservative at the same time. You don’t have to be like the federal Conservative Party. They have policies “Get Tough on Crime.” I call those policies “Be Mean to Poor People.”

We don’t like the way things are being done, and we would like to see them done differently. The voters have given us a nice bump in the polls and we’re hoping to put our first Green member in the Ontario legislature. We’ve done it federally and Elizabeth May has made quite a splash on the Federal scene. Some provinces have had elections since the federal election and they’ve sent members to provincial legislatures as well. So let’s have a greener vision!

About Pat Reddick 85 Articles
Pat was co-editor of Volume 49, along with Matt Rappolt. He's primarily interested in arts coverage, often editorializing on arts issues. He graduated from Trent with a Bachelor's degree in English Lit. Pat hosts or co-hosts several programs at Trent Radio, such as Media Are Plural. You can follow him on Twitter, or watch him eat through his kitchen window. In his spare time Pat reads a lot (q.v. English major), plays video games, and writes fiction. He has a blog or something but I couldn't find out too much about that.