Last month, the National Post’s John Ivison wrote a piece titled “Trudeau’s foreign interference adviser is now a part-time job, no experience required.”
His article is about the appointment of a new national security and intelligence advisor to the prime minister (NSIA), Nathalie Drouin.
Ivison is critical of the choice of Drouin, the deputy Clerk of the Privy Council, on two grounds.
For one, she is a lawyer without any “obvious security experience in her background.”
Second, since she will remain deputy clerk, her job as NSIA “seems to have been downgraded to a part-time position.”
To Ivison, the Trudeau government “does not appear to consider national security to be a priority.”
Ivison’s argument is plausible, but it’s not the only way to look at the appointment.
Drouin’s legal background could be helpful to a government that seeks to develop legislation to combat foreign interference, disinformation, and money laundering, three issues on which this country desperately needs to do better.
As for the double-hatting, Kathryn May’s newsletter, The Functionary, notes that although Drouin will indeed remain deputy clerk, one of Canada’s top public servants, Christiane Fox, has been named a second, more junior, deputy.
It is therefore possible that Fox will do much of Drouin’s old job, while Drouin herself – as the senior deputy clerk – will become the most powerful NSIA we’ve ever had.
Looked at through a national security lens, for the first time in as long as I can recall, not only does our Clerk of the Privy Council have extensive national security experience (John Hannaford is a not only a former diplomat and deputy minister of international trade, but also the former foreign and defence policy advisor to our last two prime ministers), so will his immediate replacement.
The second article is related to the first one.
Last week, The Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife and Steven Chase revealed that the new Cabinet Committee on National Security, or National Security Council (NSC), has only met four times since it was announced last July.
Once more, critics suggest that the lack of meetings indicates that Ottawa is failing to take national security seriously.
Again, the criticism could be valid, but there is another plausible explanation.
Setting up a new Cabinet committee is a heavily bureaucratic process, especially if the relevant players are on holiday when the announcement is made.
While the committee was being established, the NSIA at the time, Jody Thomas, revealed her plan to retire.
In that context, since the NSIA is the secretary to the NSC, it's no surprise that the committee hasn’t been meeting much. Surely, a new NSIA needs time to transition into the job.
What’s more, the NSC has been designed to improve Cabinet literacy on strategic security issues, and is only supposed to meet about once per month.
Crises are still being dealt with through ad hoc Incident Response Groups.
In sum, it is possible that the Trudeau government has appointed a new national security advisor who is both under-qualified and over-tasked. That appointment could be symptomatic of a government that can’t seem to find the time for serious discussions of national security.
Or, for the first time since 2013, Canada has a cabinet committee focused exclusively on national security, and for possibly the first time ever, the top two officials in the Privy Council Office are well tied into Canada’s national security establishment.
Although the truth is likely somewhere in between, I don’t feel any sympathy for the Trudeau government in this case.
Their failure to explain to Canadians why they chose Drouin and what they intend to do with the National Security Council invites folks to speculate, and to assume the worst.
And to think that this government promised explicitly to conduct itself more transparently…
For an introduction to some of the many national security issues facing Canada today, see Stephanie Carvin’s Stand on Guard: Reassessing Threats to Canada’s National Security.
To get a sense of how relevant Drouin’s skillset might or might not be to her new job, see Carvin, Thomas Juneau, and Craig Forcese’s Top Secret Canada: Understanding the Canadian Intelligence and National Security Community.
To be notified of my next post, follow me on X (Twitter) @achapnick or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/adam-chapnick/.
You can subscribe to my newsletter at https://buttondown.email/achapnick.