Canada PM's tough security talk wins support as election looms

Thu Feb 19, 2015 5:48pm EST
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By David Ljunggren and Nelson Wyatt

OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, battling for re-election in October amid a slowing economy and high-profile departures of key officials, is taking a hard line on security and the tactic is resonating in a region that could keep him in power.

The ruling Conservatives are tied in polls with the opposition Liberals and critics say Harper is using security fears to bolster his election prospects, a charge his team denies.

Canada has joined U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Harper refers to a "war" on jihadists, calling them a menace who want to destroy Canadian society.

In contrast, U.S. President Barack Obama says the threat posed by Islamic State should not be exaggerated and insists it and other radical Islamist groups do not pose an existential threat to the United States.

"Jihadist terrorism is not a future possibility, it is a present reality. Violent jihadism is not simply a danger somewhere else. It seeks to harm us here," Harper said last month as he unveiled a tough new anti-terrorism bill.

In the aftermath of two fatal attacks on soldiers in Quebec and outside Parliament last October - both by suspected "lone wolf" converts to Islam - the strong words are resonating in the mainly French-speaking province of Quebec. The province traditionally tilts more to the left than the rest of Canada and has been cool to Harper since he took power in 2006.

A Leger Marketing poll last week showed 74 percent of Quebecers backed the anti-terrorism bill.

"I think it's the first time in many years that a wide majority of Quebecers actually agree with a Conservative government on something ... it is a major shift," Leger pollster Christian Bourque said.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa February 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie