Government commits $1.39 billion to Canada's Middle East Strategy
The government used the budget to unveil a plan to convert the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) into a “an independent, not-for-profit entity” responsible for screening passengers, baggage and airport employees.
CATSA was created through specific legislation in April 2002, as part of Canada’s response to the September 2001 air terrorism attacks in the United States. Changing its status within the federal government machinery will require amendments not only to the CATSA Act but also other federal statutes relevant to air transport. The government says it “intends” to introduce the required legislation, but gives no time frame.
The net cost of “providing better service for air travellers” is estimated at $625 million over the next five years. This is arrived at by deducting $550 million in estimated savings from the $1,175-million projected costs of the current CATSA-Transport arrangement. The deduction would include $523 million sourced from “existing departmental resources” and $27 million in unexplained “costs to be recovered.”
The new plan is in response to growing aviation industry dissatisfaction with what the National Airlines Council of Canada described as a “bursting at the seams” system which has led to long lineups at security checkpoints. The Montreal-based International Air Transport Association had warned in 2014 that “business as usual is not going to work.”
The defence portion of the federal government’s 2019 budget includes commitments to spend $1.39 billion (over the next two years) for renewing its Middle East Strategy, and up to $105.6 million (over three years) in continued support for Ukraine, while also stepping up Canada’s cyber security efforts.
In his March 19 budget speech to the House of Commons, which will be a key plank in the Liberals’ platform in the campaign for next October’s general election, Finance Minister Bill Morneau mentioned only the Middle East element of the Liberals’ plans. Details on the other commitments were set out the main budget document.
The Middle East funding includes $441 million to renew Operation Impact, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) presence in the region, as well as $926 million for other departments and agencies “to support humanitarian, development, stabilization and security, and diplomatic activities”, and $25.9 million “to support intelligence activities.”
The February 2016 Middle East Strategy, announced just four months into the Liberals’ mandate, was in response to ongoing crises in Iraq and Syria and the regional fallout, particularly on Jordan and Lebanon.
“The Global Coalition has been effective in its mission to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria,” the government says in the latest budget document. “Going forward, Canada will continue to work with the international community to set the conditions for longer-term security and stability, enable civilian-led stabilization programs and support governance efforts.”
It goes on to say the current strategy has made “a real difference” in the region, with more than 7.7 million people and nearly all territory previously held by Daesh in Iraq and Syria now freed from its control, including more than 18.5 million square metres of land cleared of explosives.
“Security forces in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon have received specialized advice, training and equipment to detect and address security threats,” the document continues, adding that Canadian humanitarian and development assistance has helped to provide 8.5 million people with emergency food assistance, as well as training and financial support to 3,600 schools in Jordan.
On Ukraine, the government calls Canada a “steadfast partner” and “among the strongest international supporters of the country’s efforts to defend itself, and implement democratic and economic reforms.”
The budget document points out that the CAF’s Operation Unifier, supported by Global Affairs Canada (GAC), has provided military training and capacity building to help the Ukrainian Armed Forces in maintaining their country’s sovereignty and security.
“The government remains fully committed to providing this assistance,” the budget document states, explaining that the new funding includes $99.6 million over three years in incremental funding for the CAF effort, and up to $6 million from GAC to support defence and security sector reforms. “These efforts complement Canada’s participation in North Atlantic Treaty Organization assurance and deterrence measures in Central and Eastern Europe through Operation Reassurance, which was extended in July 2018 at a cost of $514 million over four years.”
It goes on to describe Canada's “leading role in the world by standing up for human rights and democracy, promoting free and progressive trade, and providing assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. The values that underpin these actions help to define who we are as Canadians, and contribute to both the prosperity of Canadians at home and Canada’s future as a leader in an increasingly interconnected world.”
On the growing challenge of cybersecurity, the government’s plan centres on protecting democratic institutions against foreign influence and disinformation campaigns facilitated mainly by social media.
“This has created new avenues for malicious actors to interfere with the democratic process, as evidenced by numerous attempts to influence election outcomes around the world, including in well-established Western democracies,” the document states. “Left unchecked, these threats may weaken these important pillars of democracy, eroding public trust and putting the future of our democracy at risk.”
Accordingly, the Communications Security Establishment’s budget is being increased by up to $4.2 million over the next three years to provide cyber security advice and guidance to Canadian political parties and election administrators.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the other G7 Leaders agreed during the June 2018 Summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, to each set up a Canadian-coordinated network of Rapid Response Mechanisms. GAC’s budget will get an additional $2.1 million over the next three years to support that commitment.
The Department of Canadian Heritage (DHC) is getting $19.4 million over the same period to set up a Digital Democracy Project the government says will “strengthen Canadians’ resilience to online disinformation and to help ensure Canadians have access to a wide range of transparent, high-quality information.”
In addition to supporting research and policy development on online disinformation in a domestic context, the additional DHC money is intended to facilitate an international effort to build consensus and develop guidelines for more rapid responses to disinformation. “These guiding principles would then be adopted by Canada and other likeminded countries as a framework for efficient cooperation between governments, civil society organizations, and online platforms.”
– Ken Pole