OTTAWA — A campaigning Conservative Leader Stephen Harper used Friday’s 14th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. to highlight his government’s national-security credentials.
Speaking to an election rally in Victoriaville, Que., Harper flatly asserted that voters face a choice between “security and risk” at the polls on Oct. 19.
The incumbent Conservatives have been buffeted by an international refugee crisis over the past week, and Harper has been trying to stress the terrorist threat millions of displaced Syrian and Iraqi civilians pose, and hence the need for rigorous screening of newcomers to Canada.
The New Democratic Party under Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have been hammering the government for failing to speed up the refugee-resettlement process, while Harper has countered that security concerns must be paramount.
With the 78-day election campaign now past its midpoint, the three major federal parties remain locked in a tight three-way battle in most public opinion polls and are trying to separate themselves from the field.
The anniversary of the world-shaking 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington gave Harper an opportunity to remind voters of the subsequent war in Afghanistan — a “difficult and costly campaign,” he said in French, but one that means Afghanistan is “no longer a base for terrorism against us.”
Nonetheless, he said, the threat remains — a reference to two deadly attacks on Canadian soldiers last fall in Canada. He then pitched his party’s wish to keep up air strikes against fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also commonly referred to as ISIS or ISIL.
Canada has a half-dozen fighter jets flying bombing missions in Iraq and Syria, and several dozen special-forces military trainers working with Kurdish fighters in Iraq to fight the militants — a commitment that currently extends to March.
“As long as the most violent and barbarous individuals in the world are committing massacres, as long as they’re happy to boast about it, and as long as they continue to threaten to do the same things to Canada and Canadians, this Conservative government will remain in the international coalition fighting ISIS,” Harper said.
Mulcair, campaigning in Edmonton, said Canada does indeed have a role to play in combating ISIL and terrorism, but said the government should focus on stopping the flow of arms and money to the region as well as combating radicalization at home.
He noted the Conservative government has made Canada the only NATO country that’s failed to ratify a United Nations treaty on the trade in arms.
“All countries, including Canada, should be fighting to stop radicalization here at home, and that’s something that Mr. Harper has simply failed to do,” Mulcair said.
Harper did pledge an additional $10 million over five years to the Kanishka project — a federal initiative aimed at countering terrorism and radicalization in Canada.
In Burnaby, B.C., Trudeau criticized the Conservatives for “playing up the politics of division, of attack or of fear.”
The Liberals managed to protect Canadians’ security while balancing that with the country’s rights and freedoms immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Trudeau said.
He also recounted his own experience teaching Grade 9 and 10 students at a Vancouver-area school on the morning of the attacks.
“The questions they asked are not so different from a lot of questions people are asking today: about the nature of world we’re growing up in and the kind of future we’re building,” the Liberal leader said.
Creating a safer world while standing up for Canadian values is, he said, “what we have to keep focused on in the coming years.”