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

Security versus privacy topped the national agenda this week with several new stories this week. To wit, CSIS reportedly provided information about First Nations protesters to the Harper government prior to its Northern Gateway announcement. That on top of leaked Edward Snowden documents that show information the Royal Bank of Canada and Rogers are being targeted by the US National Security Agency for information. 


John Capobianco:

There is no doubt that the issue of national security and the safety of Canadians is becoming such an important topic these days — no wonder politicians are talking about it and positioning themselves on it.

Ever since the tragedy that we witnessed that was 9/11 and the debate on security that followed, politicians from all political stripes have argued about how far we can go with our laws to ensure the safety of Canadians whilst ensuring privacy.

The hard, ugly reality is that we have enemies — enemies who want to destroy our way of life for whatever reasons they may deem justifiable to them, be they totally irrational to us. However, as with the recent attacks in Quebec and Ottawa and those that have been foiled, we need to be on constant guard and on relatively high alert. It is for this reason that the PM and his government are putting forward Bill C-51 - to ensure our security agencies have the necessary tools to eliminate any possible threat to our nation and our citizens.

The Opposition are playing politics with the bill - well, at the least the NDP have been consistent in their opposition. However, Mr. Trudeau doesn't seem to have a solid handle on where he or his party stands on the issue.

Richard Mahoney:

The debate around C-51 is a potent illustration of the pathological approach this government too often takes to political debate in Canada. You would hope that issues of this importance — national security and the balance with our individual rights and freedoms — would be something that our government would seek to forge a consensus on, in order to reassure everyone that we are safe and that our freedoms are protected.

But what they choose to do is to stoke fear amongst Canadians, maintaining that we are in danger and targeting particular groups as the enemy in apocalyptic language.

It is the worst kind of politics. It has skewed the debate around C-51 and our freedoms into a “you are with us or you are with the terrorists” debate, obscuring legitimate concerns around the bill and the oversight of our growing security apparatus.

The irony of this all is that the Conservative government of Stephen Harper is presiding over a massive increase in the scope of government surveillance of our citizens.

The combination of the advance of technology, global efforts to track terror, and the lack of proper oversight over this whole apparatus has put us in a position that, while we may be guarding more efficiently against terror, we are failing to set up proper oversight over this expanded array of agencies, powers and technology, at great risk to our personal freedoms and privacy.

All brought to you by the supposedly conservative Stephen Harper. Isn't that ironic?

Paul Ferreire:

It looks like George Orwell was 30 years ahead of the curve. It’s not 1984 here in Canada, but it’s 2015 and Big Brother Steve wants to watch us — each and every one of us, all the time.

Bill C-51 is overkill in the name of national security.

It strips away fundamental freedoms we have long cherished as Canadians. It diminishes the right to privacy. It’s a cheap and crass politics in the name of fear-mongering.

And by doing this, Harper is effectively saying to the bad guys – YOU WIN! We’re going to alter our way laws and our way of life because we’re scare of you.

What perhaps is scariest of all is that those tasked with enforcement — the security/intelligence establishment — will be dealing with very little oversight.

There's a good reason former Prime Ministers, judges and countless others are concerned.

Bill C-51 is one big scary monster. And there's little need for it. Legislation brought in post 9/11 was adequate. There was proper scrutiny in the beginning and oversight now.

But Big Brother Steve has an election to win. And since he can't do it on the economy (FAIL!), he's playing the fear card. 


John Capobianco:

Not sure how you can possibly discuss this serious issue without having the issue of our enemies and the threat against us as part of the debate. We can't hide our heads in the sand and hope and pray this goes away or that we don't get attacked. There has to be real, substantive debate about how far we can go to protect ourselves.

Typical of the NDP calling this bill a "monster" — as much as Mr. Mulcair has a position on this.  It is completely wrong and offers no solutions.

Richard's eloquent statements, as misguided as they are, at least are more focused than his leader's! Mr. Trudeau has been all over the map on this, suggesting he will support the bill because he feels he has to, but speaking against it when in different parts of the country.

Instead of suggesting the PM is "fear-mongering" why don't we all acknowledge that we live if a totally different world since 9/11 and that we are no longer protected or safe just because we are Canadians - we actually have homegrown terrorists who want to inflict damage on our way of life.

We need to be vigilant - and, yes, we also have to be mindful how far we go with having our security agencies pry into our personal lives. I know the story in the Globe regarding the RBC and Rogers being named in a leaked NSA document would concern Canadians, but I believe, as many Canadians do, that this PM and his government will take the necessary and practical steps to ensure we guard ourselves as much as possible without crossing the line.

Richard Mahoney:

Paul has set out well the political rationale for Mr. Harper’s approach to this.

What the opposition parties need to do is to behave the way we would want our leaders to behave on something as important as this: make sure our security agencies are set up correctly and have the tools they need to protect society in this global age.

Then, review and revamp this law, and our other laws that deal with security, to bring our oversight of these agencies into the 21st century as well.

We need then to do this so we can guard against any abuses that may occur, or unjustified intrusions into our liberties.

We have seen this week how something as fundamental as First Nations’ legitimate protests over resource projects COULD be viewed by some as something which justifies surveillance. The line is not always clear, and we need proper governance and oversight of these agencies and their actions. We don’t have that now and the advance of technology and the resulting access that security agencies now have to our so-called “mega-data” makes it all the more important that we get this bill right, and our approach to national security right.

There are bills in front of the House of Commons right now that would do this, or help do this. But this government appears only willing to lead with fear in an attempt to convince us that only they can protect us.

Our security agencies can protect us, and have done so. As we debate expanding their powers, we need to expand our oversight accordingly. We need politicians who lead us through a rational, balanced approach to this issue.

It is a shame our government doesn’t do just that.

Paul Ferreire:

First to my Conservative friend John, the NDP is the only party that has called for substantive, comprehensive debate.

The Conservatives were prepared to ram C-51 through Parliament with as little debate as possible. And the compliant Liberals were prepared to let them.

We pushed for more debate, for more committee hearings. And we were successful. Thank goodness!

As for our positions, we’ve been clear and consistent from the beginning.

We are opposed.

Mr. Mulcair has been courageous in his opposition to the bill. Courageous in the face of public opinion polling showing most Canadians are in support of a bill that is seriously flawed. But you know what, the more Canadians learn about the bill, about its assault on our freedoms, the more they begin to agree with Mr. Mulcair.

We witnessed dozens of protests this past weekend all over the country. Here in Toronto, thousands marched against the bill. Incidentally, in Montreal they marched to Mr. Trudeau’s office to demonstrate their astonishment with his naive support of the Conservative agenda. Trudeau has shown – once again – that he’s not ready for prime time.

Muclair and the NDP caucus, on the other hand, are showing what a responsible opposition and government-in-waiting is supposed to do in the face of a Conservative government that thinks it can strip away fundamental freedoms with impunity.

Sorry Big Brother Steve, it’s still a democracy!

Should make for a most interesting few weeks and months ahead. And, hey, Richard, you’re sounding like an NDP convert there. 

About The Salon

John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties; Paul Ferreire is a former Ontario NDP MPP who now works for the federal party; Richard Mahoney is a former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : March 18, 2015

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