The national election in Canada is only two weeks away; recent polls show the Liberal and Conservative parties neck-and-neck for the lead, with the New Democratic Party a distant third.
Security issues have moved to the forefront of the debate, with the Conservative Party setting an agenda on domestic security and intelligence issues that if implemented, would represent a departure in some ways from the post-9/11 policies of the Chretien and Martin governments. Key items on that agenda include:
1. The creation of a new Canadian Foreign Intelligence Agency. Today Canada is the only G-8 nation without its own foreign intelligence service; the existing Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is primarily focused on domestic intelligence.
2. The creation of a new post – National Security Commissioner – whose charge it would be to develop a new plan to coordinate national security, intelligence, and emergency preparedness assets in Canada, including CSIS, the RCMP, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Border Services Agency, and the (new) Canadian Foreign Intelligence Agency. It’s unclear how this office would related to the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness that was created in late 2003 as Canada’s lead homeland security agency.
3. The reinstation of the Ports Canada Police, which had been disbanded in 1997, as a means to improve port security.
4. An increase in the number of RCMP forces deployed along the border, and the use of facial recognition and other biometric technology at border crossing points.
It’s difficult to forecast what this election means for US-Canada bilateral security relationship, and whether a change in government would have a major or minor effect. The United States and Canada have worked closely together on border security issues since 9/11; Tom Ridge and former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley worked closely together to reach agreement on the Smart Border Declaration in late 2001, and most of its key items have been implemented successfully in the last several years.
But there have been key differences between the two countries on homeland security and counterterrorism issues, such as American concern about Canada’s asylum policies and Canadian outrage over the CIA’s rendition of Maher Arar to Syria, which have hindered efforts to continue to enhance collaboration in the last 2-3 years. Given this bilateral unease, a change in government might give the security relationship a fresh start. Hopefully whichever party wins will place a high priority on these issues and make new investments in intelligence, port security, and border security capabilities.
The full PDF version of the Conservatives’ security agenda is found here. The Liberals summarize their recent accomplishments in this summary document and this speech by Paul Martin from October 2005.