Though it barely registered on the list of priorities debated during Canada’s 41st general election, which culminated in a Conservative Party victory on May 2, internet security vaulted into the spotlight as an early focal point for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new government, on both the domestic and international fronts.

A week after the election, a report issued by Websense – a San Diego-based online security company – ranked Canada as the second most popular host for phishing sites and a growing center for bot networks.

The Websense survey, which was conducted between January and May, found that the number of phishing websites in Canada had grown by 319 percent over the previous year. That pushed Canada from 13th position in the world to second place, behind the United States.

The number of bot networks hosted on Canadian servers increased by 53 percent.

“More malicious content is being hosted in Canada than ever before,” said Patrik Runald, Websense’s senior manager of security research. “Cybercriminals are taking advantage of Canada’s clean cyber reputation and moving shop.”

Also in early May, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart spoke out about the “alarming trend toward ever-bigger data breaches,” calling for “significant attention-getting fines” for companies whose poor security practices allow users’ information to be compromised.

“I have come to the conclusion,” she told the Canada 3.0 Conference, “that the only way to get some corporations to pay adequate attention to their privacy obligations is by introducing the potential for large fines that would serve as an incentive for compliance.”

She announced her intention to recommend that Industry Canada amend previously introduced legislation to include hefty fines when it is resubmitted for debate in Parliament.

Already on record as committed to introduce omnibus crime legislation that would address internet crime during the first 100 days of his new regime, Harper is expected to bring a sense of urgency to the inaugural G8 internet security summit in Deauville, France. Now one of the senior – and most politically secure – G8 leaders, he is anticipated to be among the strongest voices at the table for sweeping police powers of internet surveillance.