There is an article in the print edition of the Globe and Mail today, claiming that national security is a winning issue for Prime Minister Steven Harper. Of course, six months ago the same pundits were claiming that the economy was the Conservative strong point. With the plunge in oil prices and the Canadian dollar and the delaying of the federal budget now revealing the paucity of economic policy emanating from the so-called professional economist leading our country, security seems a little like grasping at straws.
Harper doesn’t help himself by reverting to gross hyperbole. In his speech announcing legislation to increase police powers to combat terrorism (tellingly delivered outside of Parliament), he called ISIL the greatest threat the world has ever faced. Really? Did World War II not happen? Were the Nazis simply a friendly country club, a sporting rival? Or closer to the conservative heart, was the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation simply a walk in the park? ISIL has killed fewer people in the Western world that are typically slaughtered every week in the USA by idiots with guns.
I actually witnessed the shooting at the War Memorial while the PM was kept in protective custody (and rightly so) inside a closet. If that’s the best that ISIL can deliver, I have to say I’m not shaking in my boots — well, not since I’ve dealt with my PTSD anyway.
Still, I have no doubt that we need to take measures to protect — if we can —more Canadian soldiers or civilians being killed by lone wolf gunmen who may have been inspired by jihadist propaganda (not really convinced yet that this was truly the case at Parliament Hill) or worse yet by small organized cells of trained soldiers as in the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris.
But let’s hope that we don’t overreact and give the police and CSIS so many powers that the real threats to our freedom begin to be generated by those who are supposed to protect them. New powers require stronger oversight and not simple assurances that we can trust the government. When we have the loose-lipped Finance Minister, Joe Oliver, referring to people who oppose pipelines and tarsands development as terrorists, what assurances can we possible have that we can trust the government not to use these new powers to crush legitimate dissent?
I’m no knee-jerk liberal who thinks we need to coddle misguided youth — though I do think we need to practice a lot more sociology to prevent them from becoming or staying misguided — but I’m certainly not a foam-at-the-mouth conservative either to think we can arrest and censor our way out of terrorism. Dealing with the very real threat posed by ISIL (not the greatest ever in history but still real) will require an intellectually rigorous and multi-faceted approach — not something this government has shown itself to be good at.
Just as they thought the economy could be dealt with by exporting oil and cutting taxes, it is doubtful they have more than a trick or two up their sleeves when it comes to terrorism.
As for it being a winning political strategy? Ask Tony Abbot, the right wing PM in Australia, who also tried to politicize security. The voters in Queensland just delivered him a stunning defeat and members of his own party are questioning his leadership.
But that’s ten minutes.