A couple of months ago, ten people spent an hour sitting down with Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party leader and potentially Canada’s next Prime Minister, to talk about Bill C-51, anti-terrorist legislation from our Conservative government. I was one of those people, and perhaps readers might be interested in hearing about it.
Sidebar: Why now? · After the meeting I decided not to blog it, because I was worried about ethics; nobody had said the meeting was private but nobody’d said it was public either. Recently I mentioned this to a Liberal insider I know who’d helped organize and he looked shocked: “Why not?! People ought to hear that Justin’s having these conversations.”
Sidebar: C-51 · People who are Canadians probably already have opinions; for those who don’t, Wikipedia’s coverage isn’t terrible.
OpenMedia.ca got a bunch of Canadian business leaders (including me) to sign an open letter to the government condemning the legislation. In response, some Tory backbench dullard questioned our values and suggested we reconsider our business model. Also, Opposition leader Tom Mulcair sent us all nice emails. Also, a few of us got to meet with Justin Trudeau.
The meeting · Trudeau’s opening statement was direct; not smarmy or evasive or pandering. It was along the lines of “We thought there were some good things in the bill and we really didn’t want to give Stephen Harper the chance to fight the election on the security issue, claiming to be the only party tough on terrorism, because that’s where he wants to be.”
Color me unconvinced. I think the bill (which BTW I have read in its entirety) is a load of crap and unlikely to save a single Canadian life. I also think Justin is wrong about the politics; more on that later.
After Trudeau was done, the rest of us politely but firmly gave him a hard time. People from a fintech vendor explained that their competitive advantage against US vendors due to the wide (and correct) perception that the US intelligence community will subvert any organization’s privacy at a whim, but that Canada is more grown-up, could evaporate. A social-media company executive groused about surveillance chill on the great Internet conversation. A civil-liberties lawyer suggested that policy should be evidence-based, and that there was no evidence that the policies in advanced in C-51 would actually enhance Canadians’ safety.
My big argument was that the Liberals have the politics wrong. Recent events suggest that the actual terrorists here in Canada are drug-addicted basement-dwelling losers; immensely less dangerous to us than texting drivers, West Nile virus, or agricultural antibiotic abuse. By and large Canadians are not frightened of these morons, and the Tory moves are chickenshit, and the Liberals should just come out and say so.
If you’re in a serious well-organized and well-armed terrorist cell, do you think Toronto or Calgary is going to feature very high in your worldwide list of big targets? Me neither. Curtailing one fingernail’s width of our liberties to deflect gnats like Zehaf-Bibeau is cowardly, and stupid too.
More on the political ineffectiveness of the Liberal position: Back on July 4th Stephen Harper gave a speech alleging that Justin Trudeau would “gut” C-51 if elected.
Take-away on Trudeau · He’s an impressive guy: good communicator, attentive listener, more direct and less formulaic than other politicians I’ve met.
In the election we’re having this October, I’m firmly in the “Anyone but Stephen Harper” camp and might even vote tactically for the first time in my life. Right now, three months from election day, my take is that Mulcair and the NDP are a better bet, both strategically and tactically, for people like me. The awful Liberal misstep on C-51 is a significant part of the reason.
But three months is a long time and Trudeau would be an immense improvement on what we have now.
I think he deserves considerable credit for showing up and listening.