Mr. Harper and national security – a report card

Now that Stephen Harper is an ex prime minister, we can be sure to see dozens of articles on his legacy as our leader (in fact, they started to appear hours after he lost the October 19 election).  Depending on your political stripe, he is either a great PM or one of the worst.  There is certainly plenty to debate on issues ranging from the economy to governance to the tone of his administration.

Not surprisingly, I will focus on what Mr. Harper did on the national security front over his near decade in power.  I will use the grading system you were used to in elementary school.  Here we go (bear with the teacher analogy).

“Mr. Harper was a diligent student in my class – National Security 101.  He was always well turned-out, never a hair out of place.  He did not always play well with other children, however, and there were signs of bullying.  He really seemed to like hockey.  Here is my assessment of his performance:

  1. Support for security intelligence and law enforcement – A: there is no question that Mr.Harper gave the agencies tasked with keeping us safe his backing.   Previous students in my class seemed disinterested.
  2. Foreign Policy – C: Mr. Harper’s obsession with strengthening relations with Israel, which were already very strong, to the detriment of everything else did not make us safer.  On the other hand, sending CF-18s to Iraq showed that Canada supports multilateral efforts, even if it is not clear that the mission is doing what it is supposed to do: destroy IS.
  3. Legislation – TBD: Mr. Harper loved to pass laws on national security!  S-7 (foreign travel for terrorism purposes) struck me as a good initiative: C-51 has raised a lot of concerns.  Too early to assign a grade.
  4. Outreach – Z-: There is no question that the Mr. Harper and his friends have done significant damage to the relationship between the Government of Canada and Canadian Muslims and that this damage has made us less safe.  The government of a new student, one Justin Trudeau, has made some encouraging early gestures but I think it will take time before Muslim communities trust the GOC again.
  5. Conveying the threat to Canadians – D:  Mr. Harper reminded Canadians regularly that we do face a real threat from terrorism.  He is to be commended for that.  On the other hand, some of the fellow students under his control told us that women in hijabs were terrorists and that IS lived under our beds.  Not helpful.  Alarmist fearmongering is usually counter-productive.

I am unable to compute a final grade for Mr. Harper at this time in National Security 101.  Much of his work is still in the trial phase and it will take years to determine what the effects will be.  I will, however, grant him high marks for trying.  Then again, maybe he tried just a little too hard at times.”

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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