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THE SALON

The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - Rick Anderson, Jordan Berger and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

              This Week In The Salon: The Conservatives have suddenly moved up debate on its controversial Bill S-7, prompting charges it is politicizing recent alleged terrorism activity in the U.S. and Canada. Some say provisions in the bill violate civil liberties: Bill S-7 allows "preventative custody" - police can hold someone in custody for up to 3 days and impose probation conditions for a year without laying any charge, if they are suspected of being involved in terrorism. If they don't comply they can be jailed for a year. And anyone who knows of a terrorist act but won't give information can also be put in prison for a year. As might be expected, it's all prompted a hot debate in The Salon.


Richard Mahoney:

When events like the bombings in Boston happen, it is natural for many of us to think, as horrible as they are, that these things are much less likely to happen here. But the suspected involvement of three disaffected young Canadians from London in the Algeria gas plant attack, and the shocking arrests this week in the proposed/alleged Via Rail plot, do underline the global, and sadly, universal threats to safety that we face. The timing of the vote on the Conservative Bill S-7 (the Combating Terrorism Act) to yesterday had more to do with diverting attention from Justin Trudeau's motion on democratic reform than on addressing public safety, but events certainly made it all quite topical.

 

Jordan Berger:

I assumed their haste was intended to capitalize on Justin's comments rather than unrest in their own caucus. However, this is precisely the kind of partisan assault that can reinforce party discipline. I don’t think Trudeau was wrong to raise the issue of root causes. For example, the US President, in his magisterial way, raised some of the same questions. But Justin is no Barack Obama and his musings sounded undisciplined and poorly timed to me. As a measure of how poorly considered they were, I found it interesting that Prime Minister Harper, who usually assigns his key cabinet ministers to launch direct attacks on the Opposition, decided to descend into the fray.

 

Rick Anderson:

My sense - as in so many instances - is that folks are smarter than the media and political class appreciates. Yes, these are bad events, and yes we must be vigilant, but there has been something of an overreaction this past week. Of course it sounds callous to say this - but the industrial explosion in West Texas was a far more lethal event than what happened in Boston. When cable news goes into horror-mode, it really helps the terrorists (if that's what these were) accomplish their goals. The public gets this, which is what the Boston Strong and Sweet Caroline things were about: don't let this knock you off your feet. You have to admire that sense of public balance.

 

Richard Mahoney:

I take your point, Rick. If we look around the globe, there are bombings with loss of life almost every day. But we are all surprised, and scared that we live in a world where something as harmless and almost universal as watching the marathon could be a dangerous activity. The arrests this week, with talk of terrorist links to Al Queda and so forth, will and are creating fear in the environment. That said, most of us quite rightly think that there is little danger in attending the marathon this weekend, or

taking the train, or catching a hockey game in the community. I worry we can overreact to this, as a society, politically, legislatively, and otherwise.

 

Jordan Berger:

Lots of kids are alienated, few of them turn to violence and fewer still, of course, consider mass terror. However, as we have seen repeatedly, a single fanatic or small group can have a devastating impact on society. Root causes are important but in this case, there is a strong jihadist narrative that has provided an attractive outlet for some. This is a reality that has been with us for decades and has to be addressed, at home and overseas. I just don’t see how Bill S-7 will improve the situation. There is no pressing need to pass this legislation without a fulsome review. The key provisions were rushed into law by the Chretien Government in 2001 and six years later, after they had been used only once, Parliament allowed the legislation to lapse – a good decision.

Bill S-7 was passed by the Senate in May 2012, almost a year ago. There have been many opportunities since then for the majority Conservative Government to push this forward but they have had higher priorities. Suddenly, after a horrific attack in Boston, troubling developments here in Ontario, and a new Leader’s rookie mistake, they are in rush to pass it without proper consideration and debate. How can anyone doubt the government's newfound urgency is based on anything other than political opportunism?

 

Rick Anderson:

It's hard to use the term "rushed" with regards to Bill S-7. Some of these are sunset clauses simply being renewed. As you mention, Jordan, the bill was introduced in the Senate fourteen months ago, went through three readings and committee study there before being adopted.  It's been before the House since June of last year, has had two readings and committee hearings. If the opposition wishes to oppose it on its merits, so be it - but let's not pretend this is a matter of "rushing."

 

Richard Mahoney:

Fair enough. Although let's not also pretend that Jordan is wrong on motivation. The Harper government has let this bill languish for all that time. They did nothing to bring it forward until minutes after Justin Trudeau's motion highlighting the divisions in the Conservative caucus over the Prime Minister's muzzling of them came to light.

This government rarely does something without cunning political motivation. The unseemly attack ads on Justin Trudeau within minutes of his becoming leader were a good example. This is another, and there will be many more. You would think they could do better, that they could lead us on policy matters, for example. There are sensible things in this bill, and there are things that may stretch police powers beyond our comfort level. A proper government would take us through those issues and tradeoffs, seek public input and consensus, and then act. All these cats do is play wedge politics and it is not good enough.

 

Jordan Berger:

Rick, the Conservatives certainly did rush this forward. There hasn’t been a peep from the government about this legislation since last year and suddenly it’s their top priority. The NDP proposed 18 amendments to this legislation (the Liberals proposed no amendments) including some as minor as making sure it conforms to the Supreme Court ruling on the use of information obtained in investigative hearings. All of these amendments were rejected. The Globe and Mail is hardly sympathetic to the NDP but on this issue, the need for caution and consideration before affecting fundamental rights and freedoms, their editorial calls it correctly:

“The two-day debate in Parliament on the Harper government’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation smacks of political opportunism, and it is regrettable that it will take place. The debate politicizes the Boston Marathon bombings when few facts are known regarding the bombers’ motives or inspiration. As well, Canadian legislators have no direct interest in the tragedy...The sole apparent purpose of the debate is to attempt to embarrass Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, and to cash in on any public fears caused by the bombings.”

 

Rick Anderson:

Yikes! You're not saying that house leaders manage house business to keep opposing parties back-footed, are you? No doubt Justin Trudeau's (delayed) opposition day motion in defense of conservative backbenchers was completely without political guile...Anyway, if we are reduced to trading excepts from Globe editorials, here's one you may have missed, re: the same bill about which you are claiming Globe sympathies for the Opposition:

 "The content of the law, however, is a slight and necessary rebalancing of security and civil liberties, with built-in protections including annual reports to Parliament on the use (if any) of the provisions. We supported preventive detention and compelled testimony when a Liberal government included them in the Anti-Terrorism Act passed three months after 9/11. And we supported their renewal when they lapsed automatically owing to a five-year “sunset” clause. That these clauses slipped through the cracks and were not renewed, often owing to petty political squabbles for which there is plenty of blame to go around among the major parties, was scandalous."

Why Canada Needs To Remain Vigilant on Terrorism - The Globe and Mail

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/editorials/why-canada-needs-to-remain-vigilant-on-terrorism/article11477089/

About The Salon (Anderson, Berger, Mahoney)

Rick Anderson is former senior advisor to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Jordan Berger is a former Ontario and federal NDP candidate and Queen's Park staffer, now working in private equity and infrastructure for the OPSEU Pension Trust in Toronto; and Richard Mahoney, former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : April 24, 2013

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