While the US remained entranced by the candidates' dance in Florida, Canada quietly went about the business of electing a new premier and parliament. Incumbent Liberal Prime Minister Jacques Chretien cruised to an easy re-election, and his party padded its parliamentary majority, fending off a challenge from the conservative-populist, Western-based Canadian Alliance party.
The Marijuana Party, whose single-issue platform is "end the persecution against cannabis," picked up 66,000 votes, or .52% of all votes cast. The fledgling party ran candidates in 73 ridings, or parliamentary districts, or roughly one-quarter of all seats.
In those ridings where its candidates competed, they averaged 2% of the popular vote, with party founder Boris St.-Maurice pulling down 4.8% in his Montreal riding. (All the party's vote totals, as well as its platform and other information are available at http://www.marijuanaparty.org on the web.)
The party is strongest in Quebec, where it has the advantage of having competed in 1998 elections, when it gained some 10,000 votes. This year, it fielded 30 candidates in Quebec, compared to 22 in more populous Ontario, and 12 in British Colombia. This time around, Marijuana Party candidates tripled their 1998 Quebec total, reaping more than 35,000 votes in the province.
"We clearly built off our momentum from last time," St.-Maurice told DRCNet. "We've remained active since the 1998 elections, and all that activity served to reinvigorate and inspire our voters."
While in general, party candidates in Quebec ran better than in the rest of the nation -- 2.4% versus 1.9% -- there were some exceptions. Grant Adam Krieger, the son of medical marijuana litigant Grant Krieger, racked up 3.7% of the vote in socially conservative Calgary, Alberta. And Cannabis Culture editor Dana Larsen picked up 3.1% in his West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast riding, a hotbed of Canadian marijuana culture.
Larsen was one of a trio of British Colombia candidates connected to Cannabis Culture. The magazine's publisher, Marc Emery, who also owns Canada's largest marijuana seed company, ran in central Vancouver, gaining 1.9%, and Dan Loehndorf, better known as the Reverend Damuzi, got 2.1% of the votes in a southeastern British Colombia riding.
When asked why his party would do as well or better in conservative areas as in relaxed British Colombia, St.-Maurice offered a paradoxical response.
"Where tolerance is already high," he argued, "we seem to have a lower potential for picking up parliamentary votes. In BC, people say 'the stuff is almost legal,' so you really have to cultivate a desire to act."
The tolerance paradox notwithstanding, St.-Maurice is pleased.
"We surpassed our goals," the amiable ex-musician told DRCNet. "We wanted to be a registered party in Canada and to do that we needed to compete in 50 ridings. We ran candidates in 73."
"Most important," St.-Maurice continued, "we've won recognition clean across Canada. All of our candidates did great in getting local press, and because it was a short campaign, we got a real media blitz."
The Canadian press seemed to jump at the idea of the Marijuana Party, although clearly not least because of the opportunity it provided for punning headlines. "Joint Effort Thrills Marijuana Party," wrote one front-page wit; "Marijuana Vote Lights Up," ventured another.
Headline writers weren't providing all the laughs.
Reporters penned light-hearted stories about the party's inability to keep its signs posted, with their prominent pot-leaf symbol proving too attractive for fans and collectors. One article reported how a candidate, under house arrest for marijuana crime, got a judge's permission to go out and campaign.
Even the candidates got in on the act. The Reverend Damuzi told a perturbed Nelson (BC) Daily News, "I will be campaigning on marijuana, probably in more ways than one."
It could have been comments such as the above that led Nelson High School to un-invite the Reverend from its candidates' forum and then cancel the forum when he threatened a protest. That little tiff garnered yet more press for the candidate and the party.
For St.-Maurice, the electoral campaign and the generally friendly press attention are laying the groundwork for a strong national marijuana reform organization. Canada has lacked such a group for at least a decade, he said.
St.-Maurice told DRCNet the party will turn its immediate attention to gaining the chance to consult on any revisions of Canada's marijuana law, which was struck down by the Ontario Supreme Court earlier this year. The court gave the government one year to rewrite the law to allow a medical exception; if the government fails to act, the entire marijuana prohibition law will be voided.
While parliament has yet to move on revising the law, St.-Maurice has no doubt it will.
"It would be naive to think the government will let the law be voided," he said. "They will try to fix the administrative process for medical marijuana, and given our expertise and the fact that we represent 66,000 Canadians, we want to be involved."
"I worry that they're going to fix it by trying to create something like a medical marijuana monopoly, and that would be a small gain for sick people, but that is not what we want."
And St.-Maurice will be there fighting. The some time musician told DRCNet he had planned to return to the studio after the campaign, "but the keyboardist's house burned down."
No matter, says St.-Maurice. "I'm 100% committed to the party, that's my priority. I've traded in my rock and roll shoes for marijuana boots."