Stephen Harper likes to say that public safety is one of his government's main priorities. After all, that's what that new tough on crime legislation and those new prisons were all about. But in the summer of 2013 -- the summer when Calgary and Toronto were flooded and downtown Lac Megantic was incinerated -- people are beginning to wonder if Harper knows what he's talking about. Phil Gibson writes:
Harper’s approach to risk management is illustrated by his laissez-faire style of federal-provincial relations. It isn’t so much a constitutional strategy as a deliberate process of offloading costs on the provinces. It may be rationalized as federalism at work, but that line of argument is really a smokescreen for deficit fighting to restore the federal accounts in time for the next election campaign.
The prime minister’s approach to risk management moves money away from investments in people in order to spend it on technology. This way the private sector gets to spend it instead of other levels of government. Another consequence has been a reduction in support for heavy urban search and rescue teams (HUSAR) in Vancouver, Calgary, St. Boniface, Toronto and Halifax. Meanwhile, a training center for first responders that was run by Public Safety Canada has been shut down and the Canadian Center for Emergency Preparedness has ceased operations, its assets transferred to a community college.
Harper's take on safety is beginning to run thin even in Alberta. Vic Toews may be gone, but he still leaves a bad smell where he has been. Brian Cornforth, president of the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association was not impressed when Toews showed up in High River:
Chief Cornforth blasted Public Safety Minister Vic Toews for “posing” amid the flood recovery operation in High River, saying politicians with no operational role have no business getting in the way. The chief said he is particularly incensed by the program cutbacks to public safety and HUSAR when he hears about misspending in Ottawa.
The prime minister's claim to fame has been sound fiscal management. That was the spin. But, Gibson writes:
It’s hard to imagine what could upset some peoples’ faith in Harper’s image as a fiscal manager — unless it’s their own safety. As a bedrock value, public safety and security is as fundamental a belief as any core value shared by the Conservatives’ base. How else to explain the government’s fixation with retrenched changes to the criminal justice system?
As yesterday's news about Harper's enemies list revealed, it has never been about public safety. It's always been about paranoia.