MARKHAM, Ont. — Stephen Harper says a majority of Canadians agree with his opposition to legalizing marijuana, proving he's not behind the times on the way forward on pot.
A government opinion poll released one year ago found that more than two-thirds of Canadians wanted the federal government to ease the laws around possession and use of cannabis, with about 14 per cent saying the laws should stay the same.
Harper says changing those laws would reverse what he calls a decline in marijuana usage in Canada.
In jurisdictions where marijuana is legal, such as parts of the U.S. and Europe, the drug becomes "more readily available to children, more people become addicted," and there is a decline in health outcomes, the Conservative leader said Tuesday.
"We just think that's the wrong direction for society and I don't think that's the way most Canadians want to deal with this particular problem."
The tough-on-drugs message is one the Conservatives have been using for months to drive a wedge between Harper and his opponents — most particularly the Liberals and leader Justin Trudeau.
On Monday, Harper told party faithful the opposition parties want to legalize marijuana and prostitution, and make it easier to have supervised injection sites — all of which Harper said his party opposed.
The Conservatives promised Tuesday that, if re-elected, they would spend almost $27 million a year to help the RCMP root out drug labs and change the focus of the national mental health commission that it created in 2007.
The campaign pledge would see an extra $4.5 million per year, on top of the $22 million currently budgeted, for an RCMP team designed to crack down on illegal drug labs and marijuana grow-ops.
The party also wants to spend $500,000 a year over four years on a national toll-free hotline for parents to call to get information about drug use among the country's youth.
There would be no new money for the mental health commission, which had its funding renewed in the 2015 budget.
Instead, it would focus on finding links between drugs and mental health issues, a departure from its current mandate of "working to reduce stigma," "advancing knowledge" in mental health and helping homeless people with mental health problems.
Harper will be travelling to Vancouver later Tuesday, landing in the city with Canada's first supervised injection site.
The Supreme Court of Canada has said the facility, known as Insite, should be allowed to continue to operate — over the government's objections — because research has shown that "Insite saves lives" and has "no discernible negative impact" on public safety or health objectives.
Harper, however, said the research is not that conclusive, and argued that such sites "pull the entire drug trade" into communities.
A re-elected Conservative government, he said, wouldn't fund any programs like Insite, unless they included a treatment program to help people kick their addictions.
"Providing programs that do not provide treatment in our view is just throwing away the key and writing off somebody's life," Harper said.
"Trying to manage their decline — that's not what we want to do."
If re-elected, the Conservatives would maintain strict regulations that came into law in June, which laid out the process for setting up a supervised injection site anywhere in the country.
Supporters have argued the rules are so strict that they effectively make it impossible to open any new facilities.