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Experts call for an overhaul of Canada's national security policy to cope with an 'angry' world – CBC.ca

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Rarely has the world intruded so viscerally — and with so little apparent effect — upon the great national conversation that we call a federal election.

Launched just as two decades of nation-building efforts in Afghanistan were collapsing, the election (which produced a Parliament strangely similar to the one dissolved in August) also saw what some observers have described as a strategic snub by Canada’s closest allies: the establishment of a new U.S.-U.K.-Australia alliance to contain China.

And yet, questions about Canada’s current place in the shifting sands of the global order barely rated a mention on the campaign trail.

That could change quickly as the new (old) Liberal government faces a bevy of pressing international commitments and crises, ranging from the benign but significant gathering of world leaders at the United Nations to the slow-rolling humanitarian disaster afflicting Afghan refugees.

The newly re-elected minority government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have to hit the ground running. On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden mapped out a strategy for confronting authoritarian states without triggering a new Cold War.

He did so a week after surprising the world with a new security alliance — AUKUS — involving two of Canada’s closest Commonwealth allies, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Events in the world beyond our borders did come up during the 36-day campaign. More often than not, however, they were used by campaigning leaders as a cudgel with which to beat down their opponents.

Some would say that’s what election campaigns are all about. Seasoned pols will tell you there are no votes to be won in Weyburn, Saskatchewan with talk about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

But many experts say the reluctance of Canada’s campaigning leaders to address the changing geopolitical landscape and the threats it may produce is myopic and dangerous — especially now, with the country slowly recovering from a foreign-spawned global pandemic that brought life as we knew it to a standstill.

‘The world is a pretty angry place’

Those experts say they’d hoped the alarming world events of the past 18 months would force the campaigning parties to think and talk about national security and how Canada can protect its interests globally. It didn’t happen.

“We’re coming to this realization that the world is a pretty angry place,” said Aaron Shull, managing director and general counsel at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation.

“Countries don’t have friends. We have alliances and strategic interests, but we are now coming to the realization that we have to make our place in the world.”

A nuclear-powered Type 094A Jin-class ballistic missile submarine of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is seen during a military display in the South China Sea on April 12, 2018. (Reuters)

Shull and University of Ottawa historian Wesley Wark are co-leading a project that hopes to re-imagine Canada’s national security strategy.

Wark is one of the country’s leading intelligence experts and has been a vocal critic of Canada’s failures in pandemic preparation. He examined the foreign policy planks of each major party and found all of them wanting.

Vague, scattershot approaches to foreign policy

The Conservatives produced the most exhaustive list of promises but they were scattered and unfocused, said Wark. 

“None of the parties have a central coherent statement on national security. What is it? What does it mean to us?” said Wark. He summarized the Liberal government’s position as status quo, while saying the NDP made some general pledges without a lot of specifics.

The Liberal platform contained no dedicated national security section — a puzzling omission, given the fact that the previous Trudeau governments spent enormous amounts of time and energy dealing with the fallout from external events: the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and the pandemic.

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample of a Kashmiri to test for COVID-19 in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Dar Yasin/Associated Press)

Still, said Wark, a lot of thought is being given within government to reorganizing the national security framework. He said there is some “enthusiasm” on the part of senior bureaucrats for the project.

He said he hopes that revamped framework includes climate change and pandemics in a new definition of what represents a threat to this country’s interests.

Reacting after the fact

Shull pointed out that, unlike other nations, Canada does not have a permanent cabinet committee to deal with national security matters.

“We tend not to treat national security issues with seriousness at the political level in the public discourse,” he said.

“The pinnacle of national security in this country is the incident response group. It’s an ad hoc committee of cabinet that meets on a periodic basis, but here’s the thing — incident response by definition means you’re already on your back foot. It means something is happening and you’re responding.”

Put simply, Shull said, what he and Wark are proposing is a new national security council, or some other body that would allow Canada “to lean into the world and not always be responding.”

Afghan refugees are shown in an Italian Red Cross camp in Avezzano, Italy, on Aug. 31. (Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press)

He said the Trudeau government needs to ask itself what Canada’s “core interests” are and how best to protect them.

Canada has not had a national security strategy since 2004. Shull said that means Canada doesn’t have a current strategy.

AUKUS might be the catalyst that starts those discussions in Ottawa, Wark said — but first they’ll have to overcome the widely-held belief in government circles that the Canadian public doesn’t care about national security.

“It is a belief that is convenient to political cadres because national security discussions are often hard and complex,” he said.

But COVID-19 itself was an external threat in the beginning. If anything, the pandemic might serve to convince Canadians that the time to have this conversation is now, Wark said.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world Tuesday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

New Zealand’s government says it will expand a vaccine mandate to include thousands of workers who have close contact with their customers — including those at restaurants, bars, gyms and hair salons.

The changes will mean that about 40 per cent of all New Zealand workers will need to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or risk losing their jobs. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she didn’t believe the new rules were an overreach of government power, but would ensure customers and employees are treated equally.

The government had already introduced a vaccine mandate for workers in certain sectors, including those who operate in the health and eduction sectors.

People are vaccinated at a COVID-19 vaccination centre on Tuesday in Otara, a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand. (Dean Purcell/New Zealand Herald/The Associated Press)

New Zealand is aiming to get 90 per cent of all people aged 12 and up fully vaccinated to put an end to lockdowns. According to the health ministry, 71 per cent of the country’s eligible population is fully vaccinated. 

As part of its plan to end lockdowns, New Zealand will also require people visiting high-traffic businesses to show vaccine passports to prove they’ve had their shots.

The island nation has seen a total of 28 related deaths and 5,822 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak of the global pandemic. 

-From The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Saskatchewan premier refuses COVID-19 restrictions, says situation improving

Sask. premier refuses COVID-19 restrictions, says situation improving

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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the COVID-19 situation is improving, new restrictions aren’t needed and would be unfair to the vaccinated. Public health experts are calling for gathering limits, which the mayor of Saskatoon is bringing in. 1:59


What’s happening around the world

A teen winces as she receives her Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg last week. South Africa is giving COVID-19 vaccinations to adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years, with a goal of inoculating at least six million people from this age group. (Denis Farrell/The Associated Press)

As of late Tuesday morning, more than 244.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus case-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.9 million.

Moderna said it will make up to 110 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine available to African countries. Tuesday’s announcement says Moderna is prepared to deliver the first 15 million doses by the end of this year, with 35 million in the first quarter of 2022 and up to 60 million in the second quarter.

It said “all doses are offered at Moderna’s lowest tiered price.” The company called it “the first step in our long-term partnership with the African Union.” Africa and its 1.3 billion people remain the least-vaccinated region of the world against COVID-19, with just over five per cent fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Senegal and Rwanda have signed an agreement with German company BioNTech for the construction of its first start-to-finish factories to make messenger RNA vaccines in Africa.

BioNTech, which developed the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, said Tuesday that construction will start in mid-2022. It is working with the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, and the Rwandan government, a statement said.

In the Middle East on Monday, health officials reported 7,516 new cases of COVID-19 and 140 additional deaths. 

In Europe, the EU’s drug regulator said it has concluded in its review that Moderna’s COVID-19 booster vaccine may be given to people aged 18 years and above, at least six months after the second dose.

Students wearing protective mask stand outside a school on the first day of in-person classes since the beginning of the COVID-19 restrictions in Caracas, Venezuela. (Manuare Quintero/Getty Images)

In the Americas, Venezuela reopened public schools and universities, which serve more than 11 million students, though some schools remained closed for repairs or because of lack of staff.

Kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine may be getting closer in the U.S. as government advisers on Tuesday began deliberating whether there’s enough evidence that the shots are safe and effective for six- to 11-year-olds.

In a preliminary analysis last week, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewers said that protection would “clearly outweigh” the risk of a very rare side effect in almost all scenarios of the pandemic. Now FDA advisers are combing through that data to see if they agree.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia is reportedly finalizing a deal with Merck & Co to procure its experimental antiviral pills to treat COVID-19 ailments.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 11:05 a.m. ET

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Overcoming scandal and PTSD, Japan’s Princess Mako finally marries college sweetheart

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Japan‘s Princess Mako, the emperor’s niece, has married her commoner college sweetheart on Tuesday and left the royal family after a years-long engagement beset by scrutiny that has left the princess with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mako and fiance Kei Komuro, both 30, announced their engagement four years ago, a move initially cheered by the country. But things soon turned sour as tabloids reported on a money scandal involving Komuro’s mother, prompting the press to turn on him. The marriage was postponed, and he left Japan for law studies in New York in 2018 only to return in September.

Their marriage consisted of an official from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA), which runs the family’s lives, submitting paperwork to a local office in the morning, foregoing the numerous rituals and ceremonies usual to royal weddings, including a reception.

Mako also refused to receive a one-off payment of about $1.3 million typically made to royal women who marry commoners and become ordinary citizens, in line with Japanese law.

Television footage showed Mako, wearing a pastel dress and pearls, saying goodbye to her parents and 26-year-old sister, Kako, at the entrance to their home. Though all wore masks in line with Japan’s coronavirus protocol, her mother could be seen blinking rapidly, as if to fight off tears.

Though Mako bowed formally to her parents, her sister grabbed her shoulders and the two shared a long embrace.

In the afternoon, Mako and her new husband will hold a news conference, which will also depart from custom. While royals typically answer pre-submitted questions at such events, the couple will make a brief statement and hand out written replies to the questions instead.

“Some of the questions took mistaken information as fact and upset the princess,” said officials at the IHA, according to NHK public television.

Komuro, dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, bowed briefly to camera crews gathered outside his home as he left in the morning but said nothing. His casual demeanour on returning to Japan, including long hair tied back in a ponytail, had sent tabloids into a frenzy.

MONEY SCANDAL

Just months after the two announced their engagement at a news conference where their smiles won the hearts of the nation, tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro’s mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had not repaid a debt of about $35,000.

The scandal spread to mainstream media after the IHA failed to provide a clear explanation. In 2021, Komuro issued a 24-page statement on the matter and also said he would pay a settlement.

Public opinion polls show the Japanese are divided about the marriage, and there has been at least one protest.

Analysts say the problem is that the imperial family is so idealised that not the slightest hint of trouble with things such as money or politics should touch them.

The fact that Mako’s father and younger brother, Hisahito, are both in the line of succession after Emperor Naruhito, whose daughter is ineligible to inherit, makes the scandal particularly damaging, said Hideya Kawanishi, an associate professor of history at Nagoya University.

“Though it’s true they’ll both be private citizens, Mako’s younger brother will one day become emperor, so some people thought anybody with the problems he (Komuro) had shouldn’t be marrying her,” Kawanishi added.

The two will live in New York, though Mako will remain on her own in Tokyo for some time after the wedding to prepare for the move, including applying for the first passport of her life.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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EU countries splinter ahead of crisis talks on energy price spike

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Divisions have deepened among European Union countries ahead of an emergency meeting of ministers on Tuesday on their response to a spike in energy prices, with some countries seeking a regulatory overhaul and others firmly opposed.

European gas prices have hit record highs in autumn and remained at lofty levels, prompting most EU countries to respond with emergency measures like price caps and subsidies to help trim consumer energy bills.

Countries are struggling to agree, however, on a longer term plan to cushion against fossil-fuel price swings, which Spain, France, the Czech Republic and Greece say warrant a bigger shake-up of the way EU energy markets work.

Ministers from those countries will make the case on Tuesday for proposals that include decoupling European electricity and gas prices, joint gas buying among countries to create emergency reserves, and, in the case of a few countries including Poland, delaying planned policies to address climate change.

In an indication of differences likely to emerge at the meeting, nine countries including Germany – Europe’s biggest economy and market for electricity – on Monday said they would not support EU electricity market reforms.

“This will not be a remedy to mitigate the current rising energy prices linked to fossil fuels markets,” the countries said in a joint statement.

The European Commission has asked regulators to analyse the design of Europe’s electricity market, but said there was no evidence that a different market structure would have fared better during the recent price jump.

“Any interventions on the market and the decoupling of [gas and power] pricing are off the table,” one EU diplomat said, adding there was “no appetite” among most countries for those measures.

Other proposals – such as countries forming joint gas reserves – would also not offer a quick fix and could take months to negotiate. A European Commission proposal to upgrade EU gas market regulation to make it greener, due in December, is seen as the earliest that such proposals would arrive.

With less than a week until the international COP26 climate change summit, the energy price spike has also stoked tensions between countries over the EU’s green policies, setting up a clash as they prepare to negotiate new proposals including higher tax rates for polluting fuels.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has dismissed such plans as “utopian fantasy”, a stance at odds with other EU countries who say the price jump should trigger a faster switch to low-emission, locally produced renewable energy, to help reduce exposure to imported fossil fuel prices.

 

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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