Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Feds scrap panel of advisers on national security

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OTTAWA -- Despite the Conservative government's frequent warnings about lingering terrorist threats, it has quietly abolished a federal panel of national security advisers.

The advisory council on national security was shut down during the summer -- just two years into the three-year terms of its current members.

The Liberal government of the day established the panel in 2005 to provide confidential views on security issues in the post-9/11 era.

NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison called the council's demise "another one of the reckless Conservative cuts."

"This seems to be another one of the things they've just tried to sneak by everybody."

University of Toronto historian Wesley Wark, an intelligence expert who served on the council from 2005 to 2009, says there is still a need for the advisory body.

"I regret that the experiment has been abandoned, as I think that the conditions which gave it birth -- a complex security environment and a need for high-level, independent strategic advice -- remain as true today, and will remain true for the future, as they did when the advisory council was first conceived."

The advisory council had a budget of about $30,000 a year to cover travel and other hospitality-related costs associated with meetings, said Privy Council Office spokesman Raymond Rivet.

Garrison questioned why the government would jettison the council's expertise "for relatively small savings."

"I think that we're faced here with a government that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing."

Since the advisory council's creation, Canada's national security "architecture and policies" have evolved significantly, said Rivet.

The work of the advisory council has supported this evolution, in particular by encouraging a deepening of the government's engagement with key outside players, he added.

Today, said Rivet, it is routine for security departments and agencies to regularly speak directly with experts and interested parties through another federal body, the cross-cultural roundtable on national security, the RCMP's national security community outreach program or the Canadian security telecommunications advisory committee.

An assessment of these changes led to the decision to end the national security advisory council, he said.

Garrison disagreed with the rationale, saying while it's fine to consult others, "the idea of having people specifically dedicated to giving advice to the government is a different thing."

Over the years the advisory council's ranks have included former RCMP commissioners Norm Inkster and Bev Busson, Perrin Beatty, a former Tory cabinet minister and head of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, defence experts David Bercuson and David Charters, and James Bertram, public safety director for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

"Protecting the health and safety of Canadians remains a priority for this government," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in May 2010 on appointing four new members, including former Ottawa mayor Jacquelin Holzman and Anil Kapoor, who served as commission counsel at the inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing.

"The advice of these experts in law, international relations, public health and safety, transportation security and other related areas will provide valuable insights that are needed to address national security challenges," said Harper.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2012 A17

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