Canadians have overwhelmingly voted for change. Mr. Harper is now a former prime minister and Mr. Trudeau is now prime minister elect.
The new government will have a lot of challenges before it: the economy and income disparity; the environment; immigration and our role in the refugee crisis; First Nations; and many more.
But what about national security? Is it a priority? Should it be one? You may find it odd to hear me say that maybe national security is not the #1 issue facing Canadians today. After all, I spent a career playing a small role in understanding terrorism and how to stop it. So, why would I not advocate doing more on this front?
Simply stated, the threat to Canada from terrorism is real and serious but not existential. We need to be vigilant and ensure that agencies such as CSIS and the RCMP have what they need to do their very important jobs. But we need to move away from the fear that has been raised over the past year, and especially during the election campaign. Terrorist groups such as the Islamic State were never at our bedroom doors as one candidate suggested. Let’s be real about the threat.
Nevertheless, there are a few things the new government may want to consider to make us more secure:
- there is a lot to do to reverse the atmosphere of mistrust, fear and intolerance towards our Muslim Canadian friends and neighbours, who are no less Canadians than the rest of us. Muslim Canadians are an integral part of the solution to the problem of radicalisation, but some may be reluctant to come forward in light of the negativity towards them and their faith. This has to change. The PM elect made a great start with his comments about a Muslim woman in St. Catharines during his acceptance speech.
- Canada needs to discuss whether its foreign policies are truly in its interests. Canada has long been seen as a fair player in the Middle East: I am not sure that is still the case. I am not advocating an immediate, drastic move but a reflective, measured dialogue on where we want to be.
- A true debate on the role of the Canadian military and its deployments abroad. Our military is a fine professional force and Canadians are behind our men and women in uniform. Should we be part of the bombing campaign against IS, an effort that every expert says will not destroy the group? Again, insightful discussion is needed.
- Canada needs to devote a lot more attention to the soft end of countering terrorism through intervention strategies with those who are starting down the path to violence but not there yet. The government can’t run these programmes, but it can foster and sponsor grassroots and local groups – including where necessary law enforcement – that are best placed to make it work. Yes, we need to maintain the hard end of investigation and arrest, but we have not done enough work on the CVE front.
Canada remains an amazing, vibrant country that is one of the safest places to live. Let’s make it even safer.