They say politics is show business for ugly people. And with only nine months or so until the writ is dropped, Canadians can only expect the theatrics from their government to reach new heights.
No issue, it seems, will be spared the prime minister's play-acting, not even when it comes to Canada's national security.
The two terrorist attacks in October and the Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris have created a climate of fear in Canada around terrorism.
In order to assuage these concerns, the government recently announced its intention to introduce further anti-terrorism legislation. But there are two ways to stop terrorism: you can create new laws and you can also provide adequate funding. While choosing the former option may create the illusion that Harper is tough on terrorism, it's in the latter area that our national security agencies are in greatest need.
When a variety of top national security officials came before Parliament last fall, they didn't talk about the need for new powers. That's because the federal government already vastly expanded the authority of our national security agencies following 9/11.
No less than eight pieces of anti-terrorism legislation have successfully passed through Parliament since the Twin Towers fell. These laws made comprehensive changes to Canada's legal landscape to ensure the country has the powers it needs to prevent terrorism.
Harper himself has acknowledged this, stating just recently to the press that, "the reality is that our security agencies are able, in the vast majority of cases, to identify threats that are out there and to prevent them from coming to fruition."
Why, then, is the prime minister continuing to stress the need for new anti-terrorism powers? Because Harper sees the passage of further counter-terrorism legislation in Parliament, no matter how unnecessary, as a valuable wedge issue that will help with his re-election.
Last year, the prime minister's handlers went to great lengths casting him as a reincarnated Ronald Reagan on the world stage, unafraid in staring down the Russian bear.
Now, they're trying to burnish this tough guy image by having Harper pretend he's making big strides in combating terrorists by passing superfluous laws.
Canada's opposition shouldn't fall into Harper's trap of whining about the implications of the new legislation on civil liberties. Our country's courts provide a robust backstop against unconstitutional laws. The prime minister will only use this to depict his political opponents as weak-kneed and soft on terrorism.
Instead, the opposition leaders should call out the prime minister's legislative agenda for the election-year sideshow that it is. They should highlight the fact that we already have plenty of laws to counter terrorism.
More importantly, they should underline the inconsistency between the prime minister's blustery rhetoric and his refusal to properly fund our national security agencies.
The fact is the same agencies the prime minister is now directing to place a heightened focus on fighting terrorism, such as the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, have been hit hard by the government's ruthless budget cutting over the last several years. The RCMP's budget, for instance, has been slashed by 15 per cent over the last four years alone, while CSIS' annual expenditures dropped sharply between 2012 and 2013 from $540 million to $496 million.
While the national security officials who came before Parliament last fall had little to say about needing new powers, they did give the clear impression that they were struggling to fulfill their mandates in the face of these harsh cuts. With respect to conducting surveillance activities in the face of this austerity, CSIS Deputy Director of Operations Jeff Yaworski told the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence that, "I would be foolhardy to say we have all our bases covered."
Doing the right thing and providing the funding necessary to enforce the laws we have would irk the fiscal hawks in the prime minister' base, whose wholehearted support is essential to a fourth Conservative election win. So instead, Harper offers new laws that amount to minor housekeeping without any new money to back up existing authorities.
Without new funding for our national security agencies, the prime minister is all talk and no walk on fighting terrorism.
Colin Kenny is former chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. Kennyco@sen.parl.gc.ca
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