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john ibbitson

Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews speaks to the media before Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 17, 2013.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

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Some won't believe it, but most politicians don't actually pray for politically beneficial calamities. On the other hand, they are only human.

So it will have crossed Stephen Harper's mind that the arrests surrounding the alleged terrorist plot to derail a Via train – al-Qaeda linked, no less – plays to Conservatives' strengths.

For Justin Trudeau the very opposite is true.

Those of a suspicious bent were already wondering Monday whether the Conservatives suddenly advanced debate on anti-terrorism legislation in order to capitalize on arrests that they knew were imminent.

That would be an incredibly foolish and unethical thing to do, since it could have compromised those arrests.

Nonetheless, this allegedly foiled conspiracy plays into the Harper government's tough-on-crime agenda. It doesn't matter that a Liberal government originally put forward the same anti-terrorism legislation currently before the House. (Many of its provisions were enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks, but had expired.) It doesn't matter that any government, of any stripe, would have provided Canadian officials with every tool they needed to root out domestic terrorist cells, while ordering full co-operation with American authorities.

What matters is this happened on the Harper government's watch. The Harper government will happily take the credit.

We'll be lucky if we don't see the discredited Internet surveillance bill put back on the order paper.

Similarly, the arrests don't in any way make Mr. Trudeau's musings about the need to examine the "root causes" of terrorist acts any less valid. But those musings were ill-timed, with the wound to the public psyche from the Boston bombings still raw.

Canadians will be even less interested now in debating what responsibility, if any, this country and its allies bear for driving young men to commit or allegedly conspire to commit horrific acts against innocent people.

Here's a bet: No one who wishes for that debate has ever contemplated voting for Stephen Harper.

The Prime Minister has been fortunate, but he must be careful. He has been lucky – we have all been lucky – because he has never had to comfort this nation in the face of terrible loss. Public consolation would not be his strength.

He must be careful because the Conservatives would be the party most severely punished by any backlash against immigration that resulted from these and other similar arrests.

Immigrants who have come here in recent decades from Asian and Pacific nations are inclined to vote Conservative because of the Tories' promise to protect jobs and keep the streets safe.

But many of them wonder whether the Conservative base actually likes them. If that base begins to agitate for restrictions on who and how many are allowed into this country, it could split the conservative coalition, driving immigrants back into the arms of the Liberals.

Nonetheless, for Justin Trudeau, Monday's news was not good news. He has urged reflection, always a wise policy.

But in the wake of these latest allegations that two men, neither of them citizens, plotted to kill as many of us as they possibly could, few will care about any feelings of exclusion that might have prompted their rage.

Bottom line: The Tories own the public safety issue. That issue is once again front and centre. For as long as it stays there, the governing party will benefit. It's as simple as that.

John Ibbitson is The Globe's chief political writer.