This piece first appeared in the Epoch Times Canada on September 11, 2023.
The world has seen a lot of father-son combos in various forms of governments over many millennia: monarchies, dictatorships, autocracies, and even democracies.
Sticking solely to the latter, the track record is a mixed one. I don’t know enough about the Adams family (no, not the horror one but rather John and John Quincy, the second and sixth presidents of the United States respectively) but their rule does not appear to have been that bad.
In countries in Africa and other parts of the world, however, the passing of the rod of state from parent to male child rarely works out well, especially for the people ruled. Think of the Assads in Syria, the duos in Togo and the the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Berdymukhamedovs in Turkmenistan. None of these countries can honestly claim that their “elections” were open and fair.
Closer to home and in time we saw George H. W. and George Bush elected as the 41st and 43rd presidents of the United States in the post-Cold War period. The elder gave us “a thousand points of light” while the other had to react to 9/11. Tough job being the leader of the free world, isn’t it?
Which brings us to Canada. We have only had 23 prime ministers over our 156-year history, and yet we have had a father-son pairing. I am talking of course of Pierre Elliot and Justin Trudeau, our 15th and 23rd holders of the highest office in the land. They too had their signature phrases. Who can forget JT uttering “sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways” when he was first elected in 2015? PET, for his part, famously said “Just watch me” when asked what his government would do about the FLQ, the Quebec terrorists who killed Deputy Premier and Labour Minister Pierre Laporte and kidnapped UK Trade Commissioner James Cross in late 1970.
Funnily enough, it was the so-called October Crisis of that year which demonstrates how pere et fils viewed the use of intelligence. Recently released information revealed that the PMO (the Prime Minister’s Office, a sort of “inner sanctum” of non-elected officials who report to the head honcho) hatched a “secret operation” task force to gather intelligence about Quebec separatists, codenamed Fan Tan. The problem was that John Starnes, then head of the RCMP Security Service (the precursor to today’s CSIS), strongly opposed the body as it risked “politicizing” the collection and use of intelligence.
In this the senior Mountie had a good point. In democracies, intelligence must be independent of the party in power for the simple reason that agencies may need to investigate that very party in the event it is engaged in activities inimical to the national interest. Yes, the FLQ threat to Canada was serious and a high number of bombings and a handful of killings demonstrated the nature of that danger, but the best body to handle it was the counter terrorism agency of the day, not the PM’s minions. As it turned out, Fan Tan appears to have faded away after the 1972 federal election.
Those of us who worked in national security recognize the importance of keeping senior government officials in the loop: these people have what’s called a “need to know.” But for a non-elected body to essentially dictate what the security service should and should not do is an iffy path to follow. In far too many countries the security services are in the back pocket of those who run the nation.
So, what about Justin Trudeau? Did he follow in his dad’s footsteps in aggressively using intelligence? Did he create a special body to seek out the best information possible to make the best decisions possible? Was he an informed user?
Um, not quite.
In fairness, it is hard to know what goes on behind the veil of secrecy—scholars have to wait decades for classified info to be released under access to information legislation—but the immediate picture ain’t pretty. The PM says he never got intelligence about Chinese interference in our elections in 2019 and 2021. His then Public Safety minister Bill Blair says he never got any intelligence in his inbox. Others have parroted that line in their utter incompetence when it comes to taking the time to read or listen to CSIS and RCMP briefings on national security and public safety issues.
Not very proactive of them, was it?
I guess that not every son is made in the image of the father. Too bad for Canada that the scion of the Trudeaus couldn’t be a little more like his progenitor when it comes to our national security interests.