Politicizing the PM’s security detail

Every year or so, there’s an article in Canadian newspapers describing the complexities of the Prime Ministerial security detail. Many articles make a snide point about the costs and suggest that it is largely unnecessary.

There’s a refreshing change today in Steve Chase’s Globe and Mail article about the Prime Minister’s trip to India. Chase points out that India dropped the ball when it came to the security for a visiting head of government — India offered the PM’s team a simple car of antiquated design. The RCMP obviously thought this was inadequate and chose to fly the Prime Ministerial motorcade to India onboard a C-17. Instead of offering a passive aggressive swipe the Prime Ministerial security bubble, Chase accepts its necessity and finds news in India’s failure to provide one. The top comments on the article, however, show the very different mindset of the Globe’s readers.

Indeed, it’s usually a perennial sport in Ottawa among Harper critics to bemoan the PM security detail. Suddenly left-wing ideologues are concerned about costs. And the protection of a duly elected representative of all Canadians? Better for Harper’s critics to chalk it up to the PM’s ego or his hubris. Nevermind that security is assessed according to threat and that it is done so by the RCMP. Note too the recent Ottawa-media-driven process stories regarding trick-or-treating at 24 Sussex. The horror according to the subtext? That children and their parents passed through metal detectors before greeting the PM.

When the PM’s security detail was taking shape, the NDP’s Pat Martin remarked, “It looks like something Darth Vader would be driving. We’ve got this gas-guzzling behemoth touring around with the prime minister. It looks tough, it looks quasi-military. Is that the kind of image the prime minister wants to project?” *

The security of the Prime Minister of Canada should be important to all Canadians despite their political stripe. Even if you didn’t vote for Harper or his government, an attack on the Prime Minister is an attack on the outcome of our democratic selection and the sovereignty we exercise in that process. This came under threat with the Toronto 18 in a plot to behead the Prime Minister of Canada, and again provincially when a man took shots aiming to harm or kill the Premier-elect of Quebec. These were only the cases that were publicized. As a matter of policy that governs this sort of security, the level and detail of threats to senior public figures rarely reach the public forum for the consumption of the armchair punditry.

No serious person would seek to strip security from the Prime Minister as a result of an ideological difference because the very necessity of that security is not under dispute by the serious people in charge of affording the same. His security is not political and ought not be.

This isn’t the first time that reactionary critics like Martin have worried more about the symbolism of security than its utility. Many among his cohort were the ones that invested heavily in the symbolism of a multi-billion dollar long-gun registry without any evidence that it provided any effect in preventing crime or saving life.

If the NDP were to ever be successful in forming a government, their leader would be my Prime Minister as well and I would want them to be afforded every necessary protection.

This protection of our democratic will is paramount and even though we disagree on a lot, thankfully we’re able to do so in an environment sheltered from those that would violently circumvent the system in which we all have a voice.

Dalton McGuinty resigns

This week, Dalton McGuinty called it quits after nine tired years as Premier of Ontario. The announcement came as a surprise to all as the details came in two announcements just hours apart on Monday.

Before he stepped down as Premier, McGuinty used his constitutional powers to prorogue the legislature dodging a motion of contempt leveled against his government’s energy minister Chris Bentley who only on Monday produced an additional 20,000 pages of documents regarding the building of two new gas-fired electricity plants in Ontario. The situation is familiar for Canadians as motions of contempt — one for the failure to produce documents — were brought before the federal House of Commons against the government of Stephen Harper prior to the election which granted him a majority in 2011.

The outcome here, however, is unfamiliar. Dalton McGuinty’s government was running out of fuel. Having previously won two majority governments, the last election resulted in a minority. The gas-plant imbroglio is rooted in that previous election; cynics and neutral observers noting alike that the construction of two such plants were politically motivated attempts to secure two seats in order to guarantee that third majority. The previous by-election was McGuinty’s last hope to achieve peace and place a cone of silence over the legislature with a majority. The result was not so fortunate for the Premier.

So, McGuinty prorogued.

Nothing constitutionally amiss with that, yet the reaction among Liberals, journalists, and the left has been quite muted about the issue. In 2010, we saw a Facebook group of 20,000 Canadians reach a level of national prominence after the Toronto Star decided to promote it on their front page. The Canadians Against the Prorogation of Parliament are notably silent today. In one month during that prorogation by Stephen Harper, I counted 1,561 articles written by Canada’s establishment press about this so-called affront to democracy. Perhaps predictably, and calculated by team McGuinty, the media could be distracted by something else.

Will Dalton McGuinty run for leader of the federal Liberal Party?

There was never a greater attempted ruse in Canadian politics this year than Dalton McGuinty’s attempt to deflect from the mounting corruption of his government at Queen’s Park — eHealth, ORNGE, secret deals with private energy firms, misadventures in wind and solar doubling the provincial debt and taking the province to “have-not” status in Confederation — than to leak an exclusive to the Canadian Press about the leadership team forming around Dalton McGuinty as he refused to rule out a bid for federal leadership.

The Canadian consensus media raised a five-alarm fire alarm on Stephen Harper’s constitutionally politically-motivated prorogation in 2010, while mentioning McGuinty’s as an aside in 2012. Bigger issues on the national agenda than the “fate of democracy” to be sure: the issue-challenged glam son of Pierre Trudeau was potentially being challenged by the last successful politician of the Laurentian Consensus media elite. (Gossip-hungry, issue-abstaining members of the Ottawa chaterrati will be enticed by the news that young Justin was ushered out of the Nova Scotia Liberal leader’s dinner fundraiser to be briefed on McGuinty’s retirement and possible challenge. It is reported that the young Trudeau returned to his seat looking ashen and deeply concerned. Good golly!)

There are serious issues to discuss. While Ontario has faltered on its fiscal footing, betting poorly on the dominating energy infrastructure of the first half of the 21st century and while the Canadian west is booming and preparing, building pipelines west (and eventually south) to emerging energy markets globally, the central Canadian media pines for the old times. It’s no coincidence that Liberal parties federally and in six provinces provincially are looking to elect new leadership (seven soon with Clark losing in BC). Canada is changing and looking to address new challenges and and energy- and resource-hungry world with action instead of cynical immovable inertia. Our old Liberal kings and their palace guards in the mainstream media are looking more and more like relics of another age.

CNOOC bid presents imperfect conservative decision-making

Some political issues are black and white, many others aren’t so perfectly distinguishable. The Conservative Party in Canada has had a long history of its prominent members opposing the communist Chinese regime. From MP Rob Anders’ alarm-raising of Chinese tactics that try to lure Canadian government officials with junkets to — and honey traps in — the world’s most populous nation, to Jason Kenney’s visit China to the home of Zhao Ziyang, a former senior Chinese official who was under house arrest for his push for democratization. The flare-up of the conservative base against spending tax dollars to build a visitor’s centre for the Bethune Centre in Tony Clement’s riding was but the most recent example. The most notable prior commemoration of Bethune in Canada had been fully funded by the Chinese Communist Party — a statue in Montreal.

Senior Canadian politicians — after retirement — have been actively engaging with China. Jean Chretien is said to have active business interests in the country, while Stockwell Day is the latest to add heft to the building of business relations with the Middle Kingdom.

One senior official in the Harper government remarked to me that Canada’s position on China is changing and the latest outreach to China indicates an ability to “walk and chew gum” at the same time. Presumably, Canada remains committed to human rights in China while looking to build Canada’s long-term economic interests in that country.

One result of walking the economic relationship along has been the announcement of China’s state-owned CNOOC announcing a $15 billion bid for Canada’s Nexen, an energy company actively developing Canadian oilsands. Such a sale would increase Chinese control to a 20% level of all Canadian oilsands projects.

Many factors are at play here. Regarding foreign investment in Canadian natural resources, the sought to formalize the policy in legislation.

The Canadian government has yet to approve the Nexen sale under the Canadian Investment Act, however, it appears that it is bullish with respect to Sino-Canadian capital investment.

“Canada is a country that welcomes foreign investment,” International Trade Minister Ed Fast said in Toronto on Tuesday. “We have rigorous review mechanisms in place that ensure that any investments that are made in Canada are in Canada’s net benefit and in our national interest and I’m confident the process will work.”

That’s certainly clearer signally from the government than we saw in the weeks leading up to the Billiton decision.

Clearer still is the Harper’s aggressive tack since on natural resources since forming a majority just last year. A key theme has been a full-speed ahead order on oil, gas, and mining (codenamed “Responsible Resource Development” in EAP-speak). Besides shepherding a projected doubling of oilsands projects over the next ten years, finding new markets and building transmission capacity (read: pipelines) are the domestic economic issues that are keeping the Prime Minister up at night.

And what of Stephen Harper’s small-c conservative base on the Nexen sale? No doubt, the business community welcomes open borders on trade. Yet, the anti-communists cannot be too happy about the PM’s softening stance on China. We’ve seen some deft manoeuvring by a few conservative editorialists to stake out a principled position on the issue. Conservative-minded individuals abhor the nationalization of anything, let alone Canada’s natural resources. But conservatives must stress that Canada is open for business. The CNOOC bid is therefore seen in an anti-market, state-corporatist light: this is the nationalization of Canadian natural resources by a foreign nation.

It is largely expected that the sale will be approved.