House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.

Topics

Ballistic Missile Defence
Government Orders

9 p.m.

The Chair

Order, please. The hon. member for Windsor—St. Clair.

Ballistic Missile Defence
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9 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Chair, reference is being made to the poll. The Conservative Party, formerly the Alliance Party, was prepared to go into Iraq when the country was clearly 75% opposed to it. That party was opposed to Kyoto when the country was in the same percentage in favour of it.

Has the member from Okanagan actually seen the alleged question that Pollara asked and if he has, could he table it in the House tonight?

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9 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Chair, I do not have it with me tonight. I will do my best to get it by tomorrow and get it tabled in response to the member from the NDP, formerly the CCF Party.

It is interesting that the NDP talks about going with the people and the D in the acronym NDP is supposed to stand for democratic. However, when the people want something that the NDP does not want then of course it rejects the poll and finds it hard to accept it.

I will do what I can. I do not have the exact poll with me. It is available on the Internet and I will do my best to have it tabled and send a copy to the member.

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9 p.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to join the debate this evening on this important topic of ballistic missile defence.

Listening tonight, one would think that certain members think that this is somehow an off-the-wall idea that has come out of left field, that has come out of nowhere. In fact, this debate and the idea of continuing to participate in the defence of North America is a continuation of the defence policy of this country for the past 60 years.

It seems that some members are completely ignorant of history and the fact that during the second world war, Canada and the United States became defence partners in the defence of North America. We formalized that defence partnership in 1957 with the Norad treaty, which continues in force to this day.

In my view, it is in our national self-interest to participate in these negotiations with the United States to ascertain as fully as possible the facts about what the United States proposes in this missile defence system and what part Canada possibly might want to play if it takes a decision to participate.

I am glad that the Conservative member opposite who just spoke is still in the House. I want to recall for him that in 1999 and 2000 the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, which I was pleased to chair at that time, held an extensive set of hearings on the issue of national missile defence. The facts will show that the Alliance Party of the day was calling for Canadian participation in this system before the hearings were even held, or before the Americans even asked. So let me set the record straight on exactly what the positions of our two parties have been over the past two years.

I would like to address certain statements that I have heard tonight and relate back to those hearings of the SCONDVA in 1999. In fact, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs will recall that we held one or two joint sessions with the foreign affairs committee, which he chaired at that time.

The member for Halifax has earlier cited that there were certain witnesses who wanted to come before the foreign affairs committee and present evidence. I can tell the House that we had dozens of witnesses appear before the SCONDVA in 1999 and 2000, and none were turned away. No input was turned away. There was every opportunity for any interested group or Canadians to give evidence and express their views on this important issue.

I was a bit dismayed to hear the member for Halifax cite former foreign affairs minister Axworthy as someone who is now a critic of the system. I can tell the House that I was pretty dismayed at that time, as the chair of the national defence committee, to have the then minister of foreign affairs try to discourage us from even holding the hearings at all. Now he is calling for full and open debate and discussion.

Well, that is fine, but that opinion is some three and a half years late because at the time we held these hearings, we had discouragement from the then minister of foreign affairs. With the support of the then defence minister, my colleague from Toronto, the defence committee went ahead and rendered a good service in holding those hearings.

The issue of cost has arisen this evening a number of times. Different numbers have been bandied about. What was very clear in the hearings that we held was that Canada would not be asked for a significant financial contribution. In fact, according to the Canadian and American military personnel, the most likely contribution Canada would make is what would be called an asymmetrical contribution at Cheyenne Mountain. We would contribute more people and more effort in the other responsibilities and duties of Norad, thus freeing up American personnel to proceed with the lion's share of the work in the national missile defence system.

The issue of this not being star wars has been raised and the Minister of National Defence has addressed it. Let me briefly reiterate that because I am concerned. I accept that there is a valid debate but I do not accept a blatant distortion by anyone, a member of the House or any other Canadian, who insists that this is a Reagan style star wars, when in fact it is not.

The Prime Minister of Canada, the current Prime Minister and the current Minister of National Defence have been definitive in saying that Canada remains opposed to the weaponization of space.

If we were to agree to participate in a ballistic missile defence system and if, at a future date, that took a turn toward the weaponization of space, Canada could simply refuse to participate, just as we can opt out of Norad on a regular basis right now, as we have had the right to do for a number of years.

It has been stressed that this was an initiative of the Bush Republican administration. That is simply not true. At the time that we were holding these hearings I would recall for members of Parliament and other Canadians that the president of the United States was Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Therefore to think that this is somehow a right wing idea from one party in the United States is factually incorrect. It does no good to perpetuate that falsehood.

The United States is clearly determined to proceed on this course of a ballistic missile defence system. Witness after witness at our committee, from ploughshares right through to American and Canadian generals, were asked: Given a choice of unilateral American action to proceed on a national missile defence system or having that system headquartered at Norad with Canadian participation, what would be your preferred option even if you were totally opposed to the idea?

Not a single witness expressed that it was preferable to have unilateral American action. In other words, as the Minister of National Defence has said and as the Prime Minister has reiterated repeatedly, it serves the national self-interest of Canada and Canadians to be a part of these negotiations, to know what is going on, to have a full and vigorous debate in the country and in Parliament and then to make a decision whether it would be in the best interests of Canada to participate in this national missile defence system or BMD.

The idea has been propounded that such a missile system will not protect North America, that somehow a suitcase bomb is a more likely threat. That may well be. There is a plethora of threats out there. That is the point. It would be irresponsible for Canadian parliamentarians or American politicians not to at least consider actions that could be taken which might possibly deal with one of a number of potential threats, one of those certainly being ballistic missiles. One has only to consider the actions of North Korea to know that is seriously a potential threat.

We had the argument at committee that this will start an arm's race and that it will create a much more dangerous world. I think all of us were very concerned about that possibility and we listened intently to the expert advice.

Quite frankly, there is a preponderance of evidence that shows that in fact this will not result in an arm's race, that one could very seriously argue that this defensive missile system will in fact create a safer world.

One of the objectors at that time was Russia. It had major objections. Predictions by Russian experts at that committee were to the effect that the Russian objections would disappear over time. Guess what? The Russian objections have disappeared over time. Most of the expert advice that we heard three and a half years ago has come to pass today.

The argument has been made that we are going into this defence system or we are considering going into this defence system simply to mend fences with the United States. That is just silly. I do not know what other way to put it.

This country and any government serving this country will operate as independently as possible, given that we are in a defence partnership with the United States and Norad. It will make the decisions that it views best for the Canadian people and in the interest of world peace.

One need only recall our decision not to go into Iraq to understand that we do not necessarily follow the United States in every decision it makes in a military sense or in any other sense.

We had the argument presented at committee that the system could never possibly work, that it was just crazy, that it was goofy. Experts told us that given time and an investment of dollars, the system would be made to work. The latest information I have is that more and more of the tests of the system are proving successful. I think it would be incredibly naive not to understand, given the world of technology we live in now, that there is every possibility that the system can be made to work.

The fact is--

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9:10 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chair (Mrs. Betty Hinton)

Order, please. I am sorry but time has run out.

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9:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Chair, I understand the committee issued a report, which I think was a unanimous report, indicating that we should not proceed with participation in this without further discussion and further reasons for participating.

If I am right about that, and I think I am, what has changed? I cannot say that we have had much further consultation since those committee meetings, but what has changed?

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9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Chair, I guess one of the regrets I have is that very few members of the House, on either side quite frankly, have taken the opportunity to look at the report the committee submitted in June 2000 and which I had the honour to table in the House.

The committee was not unanimous because the Alliance Party, as I said, even before the hearings were held and even before the Americans were asking anything of us, said that we should just salute and definitely join this missile system.

To answer my colleague, the report was, what I would term, a summative report. It was a report to cabinet and to the Parliament of Canada. It summarized all the evidence that we had, both pro and con, but did not recommend that we participate or not participate. I just wanted to clarify that for my colleague. The report did say that further discussion was warranted by the Government of Canada. That is the track we are on tonight.

What the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence are saying is that further negotiations and discussions on such an important system are required. Surely that is warranted between Canada and our bilateral defence partner, the United States of America.

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9:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Chair, I want to perhaps set the record straight. The hon. member for London--Fanshawe attacked my colleague who spoke earlier to the issue, the member for Okanagan--Coquihalla, saying that he had somehow misrepresented the situation during his remarks earlier this evening when he congratulated the government on finally catching up to our position.

The member for London--Fanshawe said that was not the case and then turned around and basically said that it was by stating that we have been on the record for quite some time now saying that we should be involved in this.

We looked at this issue back in 1999 and 2000 and came to the conclusion that Canada should be rightfully involved in this through Norad as our allies had requested as they moved down this road to try and get this missile defence shield in place to protect not only the United States of America, but Canada as well. Yet he is critical of that. I do not understand where he is coming from because he was critical of that and yet he has readily admitted that the government is finally, although belatedly, moving in that direction.

He says that the government wants to have more discussion on this but the fact is that we have been discussing it and government, supposedly, has been discussing this with our ally, the United States, for some eight years now. How long will it go on discussing this before making a bloody decision?

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9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Chair, I am not interested in being terribly partisan on this issue and I did not intend to attack anybody. However I did take umbrage and I will repeat the umbrage. When that member, the one the member mentioned, spoke earlier this evening he said that we had somehow come on board with the former Alliance position. That is patently wrong.

With all due respect, neither the member who just spoke nor the Conservative member who gave the speech were part of the SCONDVA hearings that I referenced earlier in 1999 and 2000. At that time the Alliance Party was clearly on record as saying that we should announce our full participation with the United States in BMD. That is not even yet the position of the government. The Prime Minister has not said that nor have any of the relevant ministers.

What we have said is that we want to continue to move further into negotiations with the United States to look at what our possible participation might be and to see if it is in the national self-interest of Canadians.

With all due respect to my colleague, that is quite different than saying we must definitely go ahead and participate in this missile defence system.

We have not come on board to the member's position. In fact, the Alliance Party's position, with all due respect, in my view, was premature. I understood where they were coming from but it was premature.

To this point the Government of Canada is not yet up to that position. We may well move in that direction and I may well feel that we should move in that direction but that is the purpose of the negotiations: to see if that is the decision the government will take in the self-interest of Canadians.

Ballistic Missile Defence
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9:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Chair, I am trying to get to the bottom of this.

The hon. member is stating that the Liberals are not following our position but that is exactly what they are doing. It is almost like we have to drag them kicking and screaming toward the position of supporting our allies on this important issue.

Because he has, as he has said, been involved in the discussions, how long does he think these negotiations will go on? Is eight years long enough to make a decision that this particular defence agreement between two nations for the continental defence of North America is in the national best interest of Canada?

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9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Chair, let me reiterate for my colleague that in June of 2000, as everyone will recall, we were moving to a rather important event called a federal election. The Alliance Party at that time was categorical that we should have already announced, definitively, our full participation with the United States in this ballistic missile defence system. That was the position of his party at that time. That was not the position of my party or the Government of Canada at that time.

The position of the Liberal Party was that this was something that was very important, that we ought to engage in negotiations with the United States and that we ought to see what the pros and cons of potential Canadian participation would be. The two positions were quite different.

We have not adopted the position of the former Alliance Party because if we had done that, we would have announced it three or four years ago. The fact is that we are in intensive negotiations to weigh the pros and cons of whether Canada will make a decision to participate.

I do not know where my colleague comes up with the eight year figure. This system was announced by President Clinton. It was in its infancy in 1998 or 1999. This is not a series of negotiations that has been going on for eight years. Maybe he and I could talk later and I could find out where he gets this misconception.

As one individual Canadian and one individual member of Parliament I believe that we ought to move toward participation in this missile defence system with the United States. After all, we are a full partner in Norad.

Where he and I differ is that I want all the facts in front of me. I want to have, as the Prime Minister has said, a fulsome debate in the House and in the country. I want to involve Canadians before I simply salute and tell the Americans that we will come on board. We need a national debate and the debate tonight is part of that national debate. That is a major point of difference between his party and mine, with all due respect.

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9:20 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Chair, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to take part in today's take note debate on the missile defence shield. Although this is an evening debate, it is nonetheless giving parliamentarians a chance to express their views on an important issue.

The position I will express today on this is based on two fundamental principles, two values which are fundamental to Quebec society. The first of these is that the Quebec people is a peace loving people. Hon. members will recall how Quebeckers manifested their firm opposition to the conflict in Iraq, with demonstrations in the streets of Montreal.

Second in importance for Quebeckers are democratic values.

My position is, therefore, based on two values: pacifism and democracy.

First of all, what is the missile defence shield? It is a system of radar to detect enemy missiles, and of interceptors to destroy those missiles.

We must look at what the development plan presented to us today by the U.S. government represents, a plan on which Canadian MPs and the Canadian government would be required to take a position.

First of all, the present plan comprises some thirty interceptor missiles that will be in place on sea or land by the fall of 2004. There would be another twenty or so by 2005; seagoing detection radar will be installed; a fleet of missile-detection satellites—as many as 24—and then orbital interceptors in 2012. Lastly, an Airborne laser-equipped aircraft.

Since this debate began this evening, the government, both the Minister of External Affairs and the Minister of National Defence, have been trying to convince us that the project as presented at this time is not about the militarization of space.

How do they explain, then, that the development plan includes a fleet of detection satellites, up to 24 of them? How can they say this is not the militarization of space, when there will be orbiting interceptors as early as 2012?

It is written in the development plan. If the Minister of National Defence is honest with this House he will admit one thing. He even admitted it this evening, when he said , “We cannot predict what will happen in 20, 30 or 50 years”. He admitted it this evening, when he said that we do not know what the future holds.

Except that we have before us a plan that, in effect, opens the door to the militarization of space. When we look at the schedule presented here today, there is something for this House to worry about. There is something for Quebeckers to worry about.

For example, the plan assumes that the Pentagon has planned to develop and deploy 10 missiles in Alaska, in California and at sea in 2004. By 2005, 16 land-based interceptor missiles will be installed at Alaskan bases and 4 more in California.

Not only is this plan very clear, but so is the schedule. Therefore, there is something to worry about because the costs of this project are astronomical. As my colleagues have already pointed out, the United States Missile Defence Agency, as the lead agency, has worked out budget plans for 2004 to 2009.

In early January, the Minister of National Defence of Canada wrote to his American counterpart to announce that Canada would participate in the project, and that there were only details to be worked out. There is something to worry about here, because the costs are estimated at upwards of $60 billion.

The conclusion we can draw today is that, in the end, the missile defence shield is useless because, as we must admit, it could never prevent the terrible events of September 11, 2001.

Moreover, this missile defence shield involves weak technology. In nine tests where the targets were very well known, only five succeeded. Four tests failed. That is inadequate technology that should be studied much more closely, in our opinion.

Finally, the costs are astronomical. If we apply the funding formula under Norad, Canada should spend at least $3 billion U.S., or 5% of the $60 billion currently forecast. A per capita funding formula would mean that $7 billion Canadian would be required over the next five years alone. It is therefore clear that the costs of this project are astronomical.

It also means ignoring the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade which, in June 2000, concluded that the government should not take any measures concerning the missile defence systems being developed in the United States, because the technology has not yet been approved or tested and details concerning their deployment are not known.

Parliamentarians must insist, at the very least, on a free vote on this issue. Each member of this House, particularly members from Quebec, must consider the distinct character of Quebec when voting. Quebeckers have voiced their views on numerous occasions during the Iraq conflict. If seven out of ten Canadians are in favour of the missile defence program, I am utterly convinced that seven out of ten Quebeckers are opposed.

In our opinion, the voice of pacifism and democracy must take precedence, not the voice of the American administration which withdrew from the ABM treaty and clearly indicated, a few weeks later, that it supported and approved of an missile defence program.

If the government wants to respect democracy, it will allow a free vote on this issue. I was happy to hear today that various Liberal members are opposed to the missile defence program. However, if the renewal and freedom of expression that this government and the Prime Minister have called for during the past few weeks are to mean anything, parliamentarians must be allowed to freely express themselves and vote freely on this issue, in order to reflect the values they hold dear.

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9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Art Eggleton York Centre, ON

Madam Chair, in the period since the end of the Cold War we have seen a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. We have seen a diffusion of technology going throughout the world that has been used in those cases to develop chemical, biological and perhaps even nuclear weapons.

We have heard just in the last few days about nuclear secrets coming out of Pakistan. Just in the last year or two, we have seen the development of two-stage missile systems, medium to long range missile systems out of North Korea, not necessarily for their own use but perhaps for sales to others.

If this trend continues, then it is quite conceivable that somewhere in future years we could see a launching of an intercontinental ballistic missile against a city in North America with a nuclear or some other kind of warhead on it.

I would think that if that kind of circumstance were to occur, I would not see that anybody would object if we could send up a missile to destroy that incoming missile before it hit its target.

That is all we are talking about. We are talking about a defensive missile system. It has no warhead on it, but it goes up into space and at a very high speed hits the incoming missile and destroys that missile before it can hit its target and kill literally thousands upon thousands of people.

I do not see why anybody would be against having that kind of system. That kind of system is not star wars. It does not lead to an arms race. It is a completely defensive system. It does not lead us down the path to weaponization of outer space.

I do not believe that we are going to see the Americans go that route any time soon, but even if ultimately they did, there is no reason that we have to be there with them. In fact, we should not be there with them. We oppose the weaponization of outer space.

There are those who say “but if we get into this path of ballistic missile defence it is a slippery slope”. No, it is not. We quite clearly indicated in the war on terrorism that we would go to Afghanistan with our American allies, but we did not go to Iraq. We made a decision that we felt was in our national interest. We went to one and we did not go to the other.

We can make those kinds of distinctions and those kinds of decisions on any other matter, including this whole question of how far to go on these defensive weapons. Weaponization of outer space is something that this country opposes and should continue to oppose.

Nor do we have to go with any substantial capital costs. The Americans have already provided for the capital costs for this system. Quite frankly, we could not afford it in any event. There could be some costs with respect to administration, with respect to operational issues of having additional personnel at Norad, for example, but we would not be participating in any substantial capital costs.

If this sounds like the system is a fait accompli, that is because it is. It is not something that has been invented by the Bush administration. In fact, it is the subject of a piece of legislation that passed through the United States Congress in 1999: the national missile defence act. It was signed into existence by the former president, Bill Clinton. The current president has said that they will deploy missiles starting this fall.

Starting this fall: so I think there is a need to get on with this in discussion with our American allies, because if they are going to make decisions that affect the safety and the security of the people of North America, then I think it is in our national interest to be at the table.

Being at the table involves, to my mind, Norad. Norad is the agency between Canada and the United States that we have had for over 50 years and that has successfully monitored anything coming into the airspace of North America. It detects missiles coming in. It can detect any object from outer space. It detects aircraft. Originally it was designed to detect strategic bombers coming in over the Pole from the Soviet Union as it existed in those days, but today it plays a very important role in detecting anything happening in our airspace.

It was very vital on September 11, 2001. Norad quickly moved to deal with the issues involved and to have planes come into Canada at that particular point in time, as many of them did. They controlled the airspace. There was a Canadian in the command position at the time of the disaster of 9/11, so Canada played a very key role in that.

Norad can detect anything coming in and it can send jet fighters up to deal with anything, except that it does not have missiles. Missiles are the one missing part of a defensive system. If we do have an incoming offensive missile, Norad is the logical entity to be dealing with sending up a defensive missile to destroy it.

I think we need to work that out in the Norad context. If we do not, then the Americans will be making these decisions on their own and we will be left outside the door. It will marginalize Norad. We cannot afford to have that happen. We need to be there. We need to be part of the decision making process. That is certainly in the interests of the people of our country. I hope that is the decision we will ultimately make: to be a partner. That is in our interest.

Ballistic Missile Defence
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9:35 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Liberal

John Harvard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Madam Chair, it is nice to hear the remarks from my good friend from Toronto. I know that he has been a long-time supporter of our participation in missile defence, particularly in getting into discussions and negotiations leading to something which he believes will be of benefit to Canada. I suppose all of us would like to think that whatever the participation is on the part of Canada, it will benefit and enhance the security of our country.

I think that my friend from Toronto knows as well as I do that the real concern about missile defence is, where does it take us? As proposed, the current proposal is just the first round of technology. There could be a second round of technology. We all know there is deep concern that what it will lead to is weaponization.

That is one of my questions. Does he feel confident? We are opposed to weaponization; that is our policy. Is the member confident that if this project, this technology, whether it is in its first phase, its current phase or some other phase, gets too close, too uncomfortable for us with respect to weaponization, Canada can withdraw?

The second question I have has to do with what I would call the imprimatur of legitimacy. I think what the Americans want from us more than anything is our stamp of approval. They want to say, “Hey, look at those good Canucks, those good, innocent, freedom loving, peace loving Canadians. If they can support missile defence, it cannot be all bad, can it?”

Those are my two questions. I am sure that my good friend, who is quite sanguine on the issue, will give us some good answers.

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9:40 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chair

I would first like to recognize that I made an error when I called on the member for Charleswood St. James--Assiniboia. He has received an earned position as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade. I apologize.

I would now like to call on the hon. member for York Centre.