This piece appeared in The Hill Times on January 21, 2019
Third parties are an interesting bit of Canadian political history. I am not well-versed in the blood sport of politics and thus have no intention of pretending to be a pundit on these matters. What I do find intriguing, however, is how certain parties treat, or are seen to treat, matters relating to national security, something I think I know a lot about.
I suppose historically that the Conservatives, no matter what they were called, were seen as ‘tough’ on things like terrorism, the NDP ‘soft’ on terrorism, and the Liberals, as usual, somewhere in between. I am not so sure that this is entirely accurate. The Conservatives under Stephen Harper were indeed ‘tough’ although some of their moves – citizenship revocation for convicted terrorists and the awful ‘barbaric practices act’ – were wide of the mark insofar as keeping us safe goes. The NDP has never held office so it is hard to know just what they would do although leader Jagmeet Singh’s hesitation to label the Canadian Sikh extremists responsible for the 1985 Air India bombing as terrorists does not bode well. And as for the Liberals, there is a lot I like in their legislative agenda that can give security intelligence and law enforcement agencies the resources and legal tools to help keep us safe.
We now have a new ‘third’ party of course – the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) founded by former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier. The PPC is making some waves of late, even if support is, shall we say, lowish at 1.8% among the Canadian populace, and plans to run candidates in all 338 ridings in the 2019 federal election. Pundits say he could bleed support from the PCs, paving the way for another Liberal win.
What is of interest to me of course is what the leader has to say on national security issues. Here are a few selections from the PPC’s Web page:
- First, my government will continue to work closely with our allies to ensure peace and security, especially against radical Islamic terrorism
- To ensure our security, I would increase resources for CSIS, the RCMP and Canadian Immigration and Citizenship to do background checks on all classes of immigrants, including more face-to-face interviews if deemed necessary
- Firearms ownership is part of our shared Canadian heritage. We are a country founded on the fur trade.
Let’s unpack these, shall we? Mr. Bernier rightfully identifies “radical Islamic terrorism” as a threat, even if no one credible uses that phrase anymore (hey, at least he did not repeat Mr. Harper’s non-word “Islamicism”!). That particular manifestation of terrorism is not going away, no matter what the US President tweets, and we are rightfully pursuing these bad actors. I was disappointed, however, to see no mention of the rise of far right extremism, including here in Canada (is this because some from that fringe could be part of Mr. Bernier’s base?).
On more resources for CSIS, the RCMP and others, hip, hip, hooray! Both agencies are strapped and maxing out on what they can do so any bump will help. But to do ‘background checks on immigrants’? More on this in a bit.
On firearms – a reference to the the fur trade?? Seriously?? What millennium is the PPC planning to campaign in? Will we see candidates dressed as coureur de bois canoeing down our streets??
On tying immigration to background checks, Mr. Bernier clearly sees newcomers as a national security threat. Not only is he wrong on that front – most Canadian terrorists were either born here or came as children and became terrorists in our midsts – but every credible economist says we need MORE not LESS immigration to ensure future prosperity.
I know that Maxime Bernier is not going to be Canada’s 24th Prime Minister, not by a long shot, but what he says will matter. If he stokes fear of the Other and paints immigrants as national security threats that will not help and will only fuel the tiny fringe who are already convinced that this is true.
We need all the candidates to address national security issues, like terrorism, in the campaign, but do it in a sensible way. Canadians deserve a mature conversation on what is a real, albeit relatively small, threat. Let’s hope Mr. Bernier gets the memo.
Phil Gurski is a former strategic analyst at CSIS and the author of An End to the War on Terrorism.