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Irvin Studin is president of the Institute for 21st Century Questions. His latest book is Canada Must Think for Itself: Ten Theses for our Country’s Survival & Success in the 21st Century.

As Canada’s foreign interference inquiry gets under way, it is worth remembering that this year marks the 20th anniversary of our country’s first and only national security policy. That policy, officially named “Securing an Open Society,” was written by a very small team operating in the Privy Council Office under our country’s first national security adviser.

At the time, I was at the very start of my career, fresh out of graduate school, but quickly found myself on that talented and patriotic team. The Iraq war had just begun, and Canadian soldiers were already dying in Afghanistan. As such, our team sought to produce a Canadian strategy that would respond to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, keep our border with the U.S. open for commerce, and otherwise reassure our allies that Canada meant business in the realm of national security.

The final document, released under Paul Martin, who had just become prime minister, covered six areas: intelligence, emergency planning and management, public health emergencies, border security, transportation security and international security. The strategy ushered in the creation of the Department of Public Safety, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre and the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on National Security.

But 20 years later, post-pandemic, that historic document has run its course. The world of 2024 and beyond is far more complicated, and our country far less stable – and so it is time for a new national security policy.

What should it address? I propose five new elements – none of which were seriously anticipated or properly appreciated in the original iteration.

First: pandemics and pandemic management. Canada is just emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic – a devastating period for our country and much of the world. No jurisdiction in this country, with the exception of Alberta via the recent Manning panel report, has taken sober stock of the lessons we’ve learned and how to properly prepare – across state, society and systems – for the inevitable future pandemics that will strike.

Second: social media, artificial intelligence and the Canadian information space. In 2004, social media was not on anyone’s radar in Ottawa. Today, Canada’s entire information space is captured by social media and big-data algorithms originating primarily in California. This means that foreign big-tech companies have effective veto power over all domestic communications between our leaders and the Canadian public, and indeed between all Canadians on all topics, in emergency and non-emergency situations alike. How can we, with a straight face, speak about foreign interference in Canada without starting with Meta’s ban on the sharing of Canadian news? Or the ability of American presidents – past and present – to swing internal Canadian debates during elections with a single interventionist missive?

Third: war – real war. In 2004, two of today’s three major global theatres of conflict were not truly “felt” in probability and consequence. While Western Asia was exploding, the Russia-Ukraine-West conflict was still abstract, and any brewing China-U.S. conflict had been put on the back burner for a decade and a half by al-Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington. Those three global theatres of conflict are now joined at the hip, almost inextricably, for the foreseeable future. And while the threat of cataclysmic terrorism remains persistent, it is the prospect of bona fide war at our doorstep – involving nuclear powers, no less – that exercises Canadian security interests most.

Fourth: the United States. If the Donald Trump presidency succeeded in turning Canada into a vassal state, a possible second Trump presidency would vassalize us further still, with existential pressures placed on Canada’s economy, national institutions and territorial sovereignty – including annexation scenarios, now topical on many continents. No longer will it be adequate for Ottawa to show Washington its security credentials; instead, we will have to think for ourselves as a country, at the level of major term-setting powers, if Canada is to survive as a going concern well into this century.

Fifth, and finally: the mental game. The primary, unstated purpose of the 2004 policy was to lay the foundations for a proper Canadian national security culture – one that nary existed in our once very lucky country. Today, having endured great bad luck during the pandemic, we will have to quickly lay the scaffolding for a national strategic mentality that allows us both to imagine and to stave off the complex disasters that we avoided in the last century, but that surely await around the bend.

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