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Supporters pay tribute as the body of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo is transported from Ottawa to Hamilton, along the Highway of Heroes in Port Hope, Ont., on Friday.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

In a moment of crisis, Stephen Harper has projected resolve, reassurance and touches of compassion. Now the Prime Minister faces another moment, one with enduring implications for the country – the decision about what comes next.

The Prime Minister made it clear he sees a pressing need for new security laws, intelligence-gathering and police powers. The question is how far he will go.

Will Mr. Harper decide that what is needed is a little boosting of security tools, and a lot of bringing the country together? Or will he see this as a time when the country needs more sweeping change, requiring new police and intelligence powers that spark a divisive debate about civil liberties?

It's not yet clear. The sharp edges of partisanship have been absent this week. The aftermath of a crisis is a time when the politics is part and parcel of the policy. When there's a national trauma, sending a message to the public, or response or reassurance is a leader's job.

Even Mr. Harper's opponents admit he struck the right prime ministerial chords this week: in charge but human, hugging Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau, and wading into the crowd at the reopening of the National War Memorial.

Now, he sets the tone again. His government can propose measured security provisions that don't raise a sharp debate. Pushing changes with sweeping scope, it's clear, would bring back the partisan divide. Both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau have cautioned against using this week's attacks to rush change. New Democrat MP Françoise Boivin said she wants to see reports on the two attacks before passing new laws.

What we do know doesn't suggest obvious solutions in new laws. Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau appear to have been inspired by Islamic State, but not associated with it.

There are some tools for dealing with homegrown terrorists, such as seizing passports if they seek to go abroad. But Western countries have struggled, especially to deal with lone actors who might turn to violence at home. "There is no silver bullet," said Craig Forcese, a Carleton University expert in national security law.

What is the government planning?

For one thing, it'll rush an already-planned bill that would expand the powers of CSIS spies. But that's really aimed at dealing with legalities about intelligence abroad – it could help track homegrown terrorists who go abroad, but not those who stay here. One measure, to protect the identity of CSIS informants, could be done with balance, or more controversially, in a way that prevents even judges from knowing who they are.

The government also says it is looking at "pre-emptive" measures, but that could range from tinkering to draconian.

Police can already detain someone they have reason to believe will commit a terrorist act for up to 72 hours. But they never have. They can ask judges to issue peace bonds, with bail-like conditions on someone who is a terror risk, which if violated, can lead to a year in jail. But they're rarely used. Mr. Forcese noted one reason might be that police don't want to reveal sources by presenting evidence in court. Britain allows hearings where terror suspects don't hear all the evidence, like the controversial security-certificate regime Canada uses with foreign suspects. Would that be applied to Canadians?

While Conservatives have floated the idea of banning extremist websites, as Britain has done, that would surely spark Charter of Rights questions and a free-speech debate in Canada. Some will be happy to ban hateful sites, and others oppose reducing freedoms to respond to terror – and in the meantime, it might boost Islamic State propaganda. "That just gives them a soapbox," Mr. Forcese said.

Do Canadians want sweeping new measures? The public always places a high value on security, and since 9/11, it has been clear many are ready to make trade-offs with civil liberties. But it's not clear that, as time goes on, they'll see these two attacks, by individuals, as reason for broad changes.

And Mr. Harper, who in the moment of crisis matched the public's desire for a sense of unified purpose, must decide whether they want something different in the aftermath.