The April 4, 2006 Throne speech emphasized that the federal Conservative government "will not try to do all things at once" but wil l rather "Over the course of its mandate, and starting with the clear priorities set out today, the government will work diligently to build a record of results." The priorities of the Conservative government are cleaning up government by enacting the Federal Accountability Act, lowering taxes such as the GST, strengthening the justice system, child care, and establishing a patient wait times guarantee with the provinces.
While security policy does not fall neatly under one of the above five priorities, repairing Canadian defence and security alliances were always part of this government’s agenda. As such, policy that will most likely be shaped in the near term by this minority government will revolve around repairing and bolstering security alliances with the United States. The Throne speech noted that the government "will build stronger multilateral and bilateral relationships, starting with Canada’s relationship with the United States, our best friend and largest trading partner." Pursuing the strategy of engaging U.S. national security concerns may very well pay dividends on other important domestic policy files. One such domestic file where success has been had is the softwood lumber file. On April 27, 2006, Canada and the United States reached a long-term agreement that resolves the longstanding softwood lumber dispute between the two countries.
Managing relations with the United States will be a perennial source of concern, especially since the Conservatives want to ensure a change in the nature of the relationship towards a more constructive and mature relationship. U.S. Congress demands for enhanced travel documents for cross-border travel will likely top the agenda.
The new national-identity card for cross-border travel appears inevitable, as the U.S. Congress has passed the law. The target date for full implementation is January 1, 2008. The U.S. Senate has voted to extend it to June 1, 2009, but this needs to be approved by the House of Represent atives. People with passports will not need the card. However, concern exists about the potential impact that the so-called Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will have on the economies and border communities of both countries if the appropriate documents and supporting technology are not in place. In addition, what documents will be used to establish a person’s bona fides before getting a card are still at issue?
On March 31, 2006, the three leaders of North America agreed to advance the agenda of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, by focusing on five high priority initiatives, one of which includes smart and secure borders. They agreed to collaborate to establish risk-based screening standards for goods and people that rely on tec hnology, information sharing and biometrics, and to develop and implement compatible electronic processes for supply chain security that use advanced electronic cargo information to analyze risk and ensure quick and efficient processing at the border, among other things.
Other Policy Areas of Concern
In the early stages of this government, questions exist as to whether the Conservatives will sustain the previous government’s April 2004 policy statement on national security strategy entitled, Securing an Open Society? Whether the Conservatives will table the next instalment of the annual progress reports on implementation of this strategy will provide some indication of its plan. The fact that the policy statement integrates warning and response across a broad range of threats, including terrorism, natural disasters, critical infrastructure protection, pandemics, transport security, etc., may mean that policy inertia will prevent a wholesale shift by the Conservatives away from the wide ranging focus on "national security."
The establishment of a National Security Commissioner with the responsibility of providing recommendations to the government as to how to coordinate the work of other departments with national secu rity responsibilities fits the framework of the existing national security policy statement, and as such is something the Conservative government and Public Safety Minister could move on to demonstrate tangible results. Moreover, parliamentary review of the Anti-Terrorism Act, something that was promised in the Throne speech, may bring legislative reform down the road. Currently, the Subcommittee on the Review of the Anti-Terrorism Act is reviewing the provisions and operation of the Anti-Terrorism Act. This Subcommittee will take into consideration the past reviews of this Act completed by both houses of Parliament, that were at report stage when Parliament was dissolved prior to the most recent federal election. The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, under which the above Subcommittee operates, has requested an extension beyond the June 23, 2006 deadline for rep orting to Parliament.
On June 16, 2006, Prime Minister Harper announced an investment of $254 million over two years to bolster air, rail, transit and marine security. This investment was included in the 2006 Budget.
Air India Inquiry
The first order of business on this file was completed on May 1, 2006, when Prime Minister Harper announced a Commission of Inquiry into the investigation of the Air India bombing. The Commission of Inquiry has established terms of reference that will see r etired Supreme Court Justice John Major as Commissioner look into certain aspects of the 1985 Air India bombing, including key questions raised in Bob Rae’s November 2005 report. The Commission has not set a specific timeframe for the Inquiry’s report of findings and recommendations.
Foreign Spy Agency
The previous Liberal government appeared to consider the idea of expanding the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) mandate to include foreign operations, but nothing was done. However, before a Parliamentary Committee, the Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day stated recently that, "The government is determ ined to increase its foreign intelligence-gathering capability one way or another." Mr. Day suggested that the government would either create a new spy agency or expand the mandate of CSIS. He did not provide a deadline for making a decision on the preferred foreign-intelligence option. In pursuing either option, numerous obstacles would have to be overcome, such as associated costs and the time required working out arrangements with key allies. These obstacles may outlive this minority government as it will not likely be a priority and will be regarded as politically contentious.
Circumstances That Might Necessitate Government Action/Reaction
A February 2006 Conference Board of Canada report entitled, Facing Risks: Global Security Trends and Canada, noted that Canada is vulnerable to attacks on energy infrastructure aimed at disrupting service to the United States. Given the importance of energy to the U.S. and Canadian economies and the importance of establishing strong Canada-U.S. relations re cross-border travel, etc., this is an area that might get attention from the Conservative government. This is likely as a result of the agreement on March 31, 2006, by the three leaders of North America to advance the agenda of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, part of which inclu des developing a common approach to critical infrastructure protection.
Pandemics (Avian Influenza, etc.)
An influenza outbreak would necessitate an immediate coordinated federal-provincial government reaction. After poor federal-provincial coordination during the recent SARS outbreak, the federal government may wish to take better command of any future pandemic situation. The government moved in this direction on April 24, 2006, by reintroducing in Parliament what is now known as Bill C-5, the Public Health Agency of Canada Act. This Bill aims to enhance the federal government’s ability to identify and reduce public h ealth risk factors and provide a clear focal point for Canada to manage health protection and promotion issues at its borders and to interact with its international partners.
Conservative Party Election Platform
According to the election platform of the Conservative Party, "Security also means knowing that our borders are secure and that our federal government is actively protecting us against terrorism, smuggling, and organized crime." The platform states that in reg ards to "Securing Our Borders," a Conservative government will:
- Name a National Security Commissioner with the responsibility of providing recommendations to government as to how to coordinate the work of the RCMP, CSIS, the Canada Border Services Agency, a revitalized Coast Guard, a reinstated Ports Police, and a new Canadian Foreign Intelligence Agency, as well as the security aspects of the Departments of Immigration and Transport.
- Create a Canadian Foreign Intelligence Agency to effectively gather intelligence overseas, independently counter threats before they reach Canada, and increase allied intelligence operations.
- Establish the Canadian Coast Guard as a stand-alone agency and honour the plans to invest $276 million over five years in expanding and updating the Coast Guard fleet.
- Create a National Security Review Committee to ensure effective oversight and a greater degree of accountability and transparency regarding Canada’s national security efforts.
- Ensure that agencies such as CSIS, RCMP, and the Canada Border Services Agency have adequate resources and equipment.
- Provide our border officers with sidearms and the training required for their use, and ensure, for the safety of these officers, that there are no "work alone" posts.
- Reopen RCMP border detachments in Québec and the West and increase resources to the RCMP so that they can respond promptly to border calls when required.
- Deploy face recognition and other biometric technology at border crossings and ports of entry.
In regards to "Ensuring effective deportation laws," the election platform states that a Conservative government will:
- Rapidly reduce the backlog of unexecuted deportation orders and swiftly carry out new deportation orders.
- Put the top priority on executing existing and new deportation orders against individuals with criminal records, connections to terrorist organizations, or organized crime.
- Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Criminal Code, and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to permit sentencing courts to order deportation following conviction on select offences and prohibit persons already ordered deported from parole eligibility before deportation.
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