Terrorism fear-mongering isn’t just to win votes – it’s also about money

Once the wheels started falling off the little red economic wagon and it became clear that Harper couldn’t claim a budgetary surplus no matter how much he cooked the books, it was obvious that the massive frightening super-threatening threat posed by Islamist terrorism would be a centrepiece of the Conservative campaign.

Here at The Alfalfafield, I’ve extensively covered Harper’s security theatrics in the months leading up to the election, from his undercover action hero visit to the front lines of Iraq (and the racist nationalistic war-glorifying speech he gave to Canadian troops stationed in Kuwait), to his fear-mongering announcement on increased funding for the security and intelligence agencies who Risk Their Lives to Keep Us Safe, to Jason Kenney’s aggressive posturing on ISIS and the Canadian government’s insistence that this is a winnable war, dammit, to the government’s sneaky insertion of provisions allowing them to revoke the passports of suspected “terrorists” via a secret trial process into the omnibus “budget” bill, to the government’s spurious pre-crime pursuit of a Winnipeg man on bogus terrorism charges.

In yesterday’s election news round-up, I discussed the Conservative Party’s latest bit of fear-based politicking, their proposal to ban travel to certain “terror hotspots” around the globe – said hotspots to be determined by politicians, obviously.

And the straightforward interpretation for these policies is that they’re effective from an electioneering perspective. The HarperCons seem to be following the playbook from the Bush/Cheney ’04 campaign, which was successfully able to propel a relatively unpopular incumbent to reelection on the basis of terrifying the crap out of the electorate.

It’s an open question whether these tactics will be effective in this context. There are many obvious differences between Bush in 2004 and Harper in 2015 – perhaps the biggest being that Bush could invoke 9/11, while all Harper can point to is his Parliament Hill broom closet. Be that as it may, the HarperCons have eagerly been painting Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as soft on terror:

“[T]o say that his priority is the restoration, or to become best friends with one of the state sponsors of terrorism in the world, the government of Iran, and that he wants to cut the relationship we’ve established with all of our allies… and with a large international coalition to take the fight against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a group that… has executed and is planning attacks against Canada and Canadians,” the prime minister said.

“I think on behalf of both Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair, their positions on the military mission in Iraq and Syria, their mission against ISIS, is irresponsible electoral politics. And I think most Canadians understand that,” Harper said.

Harper clearly thinks that there’s some votes to be won by playing up the fear of terrorism and promising that the Conservatives are the best party to address the supposed threat.

But there’s another, more insidious explanation for the security agenda, which is that there’s a lot of money in taking advantage of frightened people.

I remarked in yesterday’s coverage of the ongoing Mike Duffy controversy/trial/employment program for Canadian political journalists that it’s amazing that of all the scandals of the Harper years, one measly $90 000 cheque turned out to be the one that captured the public’s (and the press’s) attention. As a prime example of what I’m talking about, I’d like to present this Lawrence Martin column from 2013:

There is $3.1-billion in government money unaccounted for, as Auditor-General Michael Ferguson reported some time ago. It just kind of flew off into the netherworld. And it seems most everyone has forgotten. As in, too bad taxpayer, nothing can be done.

You have to wonder, has there ever been so large a federal sum dematerialize like this? Will there be no inquiry? Will not one head roll – not a public servant’s, not a politician’s?

The money was initially targeted for public security and anti-terrorism funding. There was $12.9-billion allocated. Only $9.8-billion has been accounted for. Mr. Ferguson asked the Treasury Board, which is supposed to track spending scrupulously, to explain the gap, to come up with some answers. It didn’t have any. It still doesn’t.

The Conservatives, who tout themselves as first-rate managers of the public purse, seem just to have brushed it off. They hoped, maybe in their wildest dreams, that the story would go away in a few days after the A-G’s revelation back in April. And that’s what happened…

Some of the spending on the anti-terrorism file, as [Treasury Board President Tony] Clement has pointed out, dates back to when the Liberals held the reins. That might explain why the Grits have hardly been aggressive on the matter. But the New Democrats say they haven’t forgotten and soon plan to move in hard on this file.

So they should. No government, especially one that stakes a claim to fiscal rectitude, should be allowed to get away with losing track of $3.1-billion. [my bold]

Do you remember hearing anything from the NDP lately on this issue? Yeah, me neither.

What we have here is a bipartisan consensus to spend lots and lots and lots of money on “security” and “anti-terrorism”. When some of it was shown to have gone mysteriously missing, there was some controversy for a week or two – and then, ironically, everybody got distracted by the Duffy story, which broke around that time, and questions about who knew what when re: that now-infamous $90 000 cheque displaced all discussion of where the money went – never mind any questions of why the hell we were spending $13 billion on anti-terrorism to begin with, or what we hoped to get for that kind of money.

Look, there’s a whole lot of agencies, including CSIS, CSE, CBSA, and large sections of the RCMP, which are pretty dependent on an existential threat to our security and way of life in order to survive and find purpose. There are a lot of people, in and out of government, who make a tidy living off of the security/fear agenda – an agenda which enjoys the support of all the major parties, with some minor cosmetic differences.

And every dollar that our government puts towards decreasing the already negligible threat of terrorism is a dollar that isn’t being put towards more renewable energy, or the eradication of poverty and homelessness, or investigating and addressing a far greater threat to Canadians, the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women, or any number of other laudable and achievable projects to improve the standard of living of the most vulnerable people in this country.

The real scandal isn’t the $3 billion that went missing, although I certainly am curious about where it wound up. The real scandal is the massive amount of resources we’re willing to devote to the impossible pursuit of security, at a cost not just of our liberty, but our ability to address some of our society’s most pressing non-imaginary threats.

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