On 23 February, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill C-51 was passed. The bill expands privileges and powers given to Canadian intelligence and security agencies. The Conservative government claims that the bill is necessary in order to protect Canadians and ensure their freedoms. Is protecting Canadians truly the objective of the Conservative party, or is it a political strategy meant to ensure a Tory victory in the upcoming election?
The unveiling of Bill C-51 came not long after the Quebec and Ottawa attacks on Canadian Armed Forces members. Canadians were shocked at the severity and awakened by the reality of radical attacks on home soil. Coincidentally, Harper’s government reveals what seems to be a solution to soothe the agitated Canadian minds: an anti-terrorism legislation that will act as heightened precautions against any future terror attacks on Canadian land. Under the guise of concern for Canadian people, Harper’s government exploited the mood of the people and introduced a political move that would surely appeal to the masses.
When the bill was initially passed, a shocking number of people strongly supported the implementation of C-51. An online survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in February of this year showed that 82% of adult Canadians supported the passing of the bill. Around a third of the supporters claimed that the bill did not go far enough in terms of powers given to Canadian security agencies. All of this meant a lot of positive attention for the Conservative party, and favouritism shifted towards Stephen Harper.
In terms of opposition by the other parties, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals presented next to no resistance to Harper’s bill; the Liberals actually supported C-51. Thomas Mulclair and the NDP, on the other hand, saw Bill C-51 as a flawed legislation and vowed to fight against its implementation. Mulclair attributed Trudeau’s compliance with the bill to faltering under political pressure from the Conservatives. Trudeau retaliated by claiming that the NDP had no concern for national security at all, and that there was no reason to vote against the bill aside from the fact that the bill should be revised further and be more specific. The Conservatives had the support of the Liberals as well as the general public.
In the weeks that followed the first presentation of Bill C-51, the Conservative party and their breadwinning bill faced no considerable opposition. Mulclair had said that the bill was too vague in wording and that it could harm Canadian freedoms instead of protecting them, but had no plan of action or proposition to oppose Harper. Harper was counting on this single power play to secure him the spot as Prime Minister in the next election.
However, support for Bill C-51 left as quickly as it came. Earlier this March, in a poll conducted by Forum Research, support for the bill had dropped to 45%, with an almost equivalent percentage of people who were opposed to the bill. Canadians had begun to scrutinize the bill, and public opinion on the legislation changed dramatically. Concerns arose around the protection of the privacy of Canadians, and further analysis brought to light the possibility of Canadian security agencies abusing the privileges granted by the bill. Harper’s political juggernaut had jolted to a stop.
This sudden change in public opinion opens up an opportunity for the NDP to step in and take the stage. Considering the Liberals had sided with the Conservatives on the passing of Bill C-51, the shift in public favour puts the NDP in an advantageous position to appeal to the general public in place of the Conservatives and the Liberals. A reckless and greedy grab for support leaves the Conservatives in a difficult spot as more and more people rally to oppose Bill C-51.