Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion before us today, particularly as it deals with such an important issue: the security of North America and its people.
Let me begin by saying that the government concurs with this motion, first, because it asks us to reaffirm our strong support for the North American Aerospace Defence Command or Norad and, second, because it acknowledges the role that this binational organization could play in a ballistic missile defence system. Today I am pleased to announce that the government has decided to enter into discussions with the United States on Canada's participation in ballistic missile defence.
The government has decided to begin talks with the United States on Canadian participation in a missile defence system.
The goal of these discussions is to reach an agreement on our possible participation in BMD, an agreement that meets our goal of protecting Canadians and preserving the central role of Norad in North American defence and security. No final decision will be taken before returning to cabinet after these discussions.
Let me be clear. While we believe that missile defence has the potential to benefit Canada, our participation is not unconditional. It is our responsibility to ensure that any arrangement protects our national interests. This will be at the forefront of our discussions.
In elaborating why the government has made this decision to enter into discussions, let me focus on three elements: first, the protection of Canadian lives; second, continuity and change in the joint defence of North America; and third, the Canadian position which rests fully intact regarding opposition to weaponization of space.
On the first point, the protection of Canadian lives, I can think of no responsibility for a government more fundamental than the protection of the lives of its citizens. The Government of Canada would be better placed to protect the lives of Canadians if we were inside this tent rather outside this tent. It is the responsibility of government to do its due diligence to ensure that the system is set up and that the system will operate in such a way as to afford Canadians equal protection from such a threat as the protection that is afforded to Americans.
If such an event should occur, the system will have only minutes to respond and computer algorithms will be very important in determining this response. It is the responsibility of a sovereign government to do its due diligence to ensure that Canadian lives are well protected by that system and by the computer algorithms which will be an important determinant of how that system works.
Indeed, I would say that a sovereign government would not wash its hands of the protection of the lives of its own citizens and leave it up to another government to do as it wishes. A sovereign government, and that is the government's belief, has the duty and responsibility to do its own due diligence to ensure maximum protection of the lives of its citizens. That is the first reason the government has decided to enter into these discussions.
The second reason has to do with the continuity and change in the joint defence of North America. At least since 1940 Canada has entered into a solemn covenant with the United States to jointly defend our shared continent. The enemies, the risks and the threats have changed in the more than 60 years since 1940. That is the element of change. But there is a fundamental continuity in that for more than half a century we have worked with the United States to co-defend this continent of ours and at the same time to ensure to our American friends that their northern flank, the Canada-U.S. border, will not pose a security risk for the people of the United States.
Canada and the United States over the decades have disagreed many times on many matters. We have disagreed on Vietnam and on Iraq. We have disagreed on softwood lumber, on the Kyoto accord, on many, many issues. But never have we disagreed, never have we parted company with the United States on this agreement of more than 50 years, that we are in this together in co-defending our continent. We are not about to do that today.
Let me provide a brief history of this 60-plus years of co-defence of the continent. I will make the argument that the possibility of our joining the ballistic missile defence system is in that continuity of joint defence of the continent while at the same time respecting the changes that have occurred over the decades.
I would date the beginning of this co-defence to 1940. Historians may find an earlier date, but certainly in 1940 the Ogdensburg agreement was entered into by then Prime Minister Mackenzie King and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It referred to the joint defence of the continent at the time of World War II. It was a time in which German submarines were in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the United States constructed a military base in Newfoundland.
That was the beginning of the joint defence of North America. Then we flash forward to the cold war and a new and totally different enemy, but there is the same principle of jointly defending the continent. Norad was established in 1958 for the joint defence of North American aerospace and the joint defence of the continent against the then threat from the Soviet Union.
Even within Norad there was an element of change within the cold war because the nature of the threat from the Soviet Union changed over time as the cold war evolved. In the earlier years the threat principally consisted of bombers that could drop nuclear bombs on North America. Then it evolved into the principal threat being intercontinental ballistic missiles and later on there were cruise missiles launched either from the air or from submarines.
The nature of the response to these evolving threats shifted over time, but the core objective was to defend the continent, to defend Canada and the United States from what was then a very real perceived threat from the Soviet Union.
At the same time, peacetime functions for Norad evolved, such as defence of the continent from airborne drug smuggling. Then the cold war ended, but Norad did not end. New threats, new risks and new problems emerged, notably in the aftermath of September 11. The enemy was no longer communism, the enemy was now terrorism, but at the same time there was continuity in the joint defence of North America by our two counties.
In this post-September 11 world, Norad and our activities with the United States have evolved to reflect these new realities. One of those evolutions was the development of the agreement which we arrived at in December of last year to set up the Canada-U.S. joint military planning group, which is now being set up in Norad in Colorado Springs under the direction of the deputy chief of Norad who indeed is a Canadian.
The purpose of the planning group is for Canadians and Americans to pool their resources and share intelligence in order to achieve two objectives. The first objective is to minimize the risk of a terrorist attack. The second objective is that in the event such attacks occur, to work together to minimize the loss of life and property. This is one element in the joint defence of North America, continuity in that basic objective, suited however to the post-September 11 world.
The government believes that if the discussions with the United States lead to an agreement that Norad represents the logical place in which to lodge ballistic missile defence, this would be the second element of the post-September 11 Canadian involvement in the joint defence of the continent. The first stage would be the planning group, which I have already mentioned and the second stage would be the incorporation of ballistic missile defence into Norad.
This is what we will be proposing to the Americans in the course of these discussions, which my colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I will be launching. Until today Canada had not expressed an interest in participating in ballistic missile defence. Therefore, the Americans were going along without us, not in Norad, because Norad is binational, but rather in northern command. However, as of today, when we are announcing our interest to enter into discussions with the possibility of participation, we will be suggesting that ballistic missile defence be lodged in Norad.
I believe very firmly that this would be in Canada's interest. This represents the continuity since 1940 that I have described, the constancy of our joint defence of the continent, the constancy of our binational efforts with the Americans to defend our joint land space. As well it represents the evolution of the nature of that threat, the evolution of technology and hence, the evolution of the detailed appropriate response.
The evolution has been from the time of Nazi Germany through the cold war to the post-September 11 world where terrorism and other threats have become our main preoccupation. From the defence against bombers and missiles and cruise missiles, to the planning group, to ballistic missile defence is the logical sequence given the evolution of the security environment and of technology at Norad.
As such, I believe that if our discussions with the Americans are successful this will give new life, new relevance and a renewed future to Norad, which has served Canada extremely well over all these decades.
Those are my first two reasons, the core responsibility of the government to protect Canadian lives and the continuity and change in the defence of North America. The third and final element in my comments has to do with Canada's continuing opposition to the weaponization of space.
I feel it is important to note that despite the many changes in the international strategic environment since the end of the cold war, one thing remains constant and that is Canada's opposition to the weaponization of space.
We have proven our commitment to a peaceful use of space since 1972 when we were the first country to put a national communications satellite in geostationary orbit. Canada will continue to work with its friends and allies in developing a tight legal framework to keep space weapon-free.
There is uncertainty in the United States as to whether the United States will or will not at some point proceed with the weaponization of space. There are proposals on the table still unfunded for research to begin on that topic in some four years. I understand that congress is divided and no decision has been made, so the American position is unclear.
The Canadian opposition is very clear. I put it to the House that if we are not inside the tent our ability to influence the U.S. decisions in these areas is likely to be precisely zero. If we are a part of ballistic missile defence, then at least we will be inside the tent and be able to make our views known in an attempt to influence the outcome of this U.S. decision.
It is not as if Canada will be alone in confronting a monolithic United States on the subject of weaponization of space because, as I just said, within the United States itself opinions are varied on this topic. Therefore, working within the system, were we to come to an agreement with the United States, I think Canada will be able to exert some influence along with like-minded Americans on this topic.
One thing is sure, if we are not a part of this we will have no influence. If we are a part of this we will be better placed to exert influence on this important policy question.
Let me conclude by repeating that the government has today decided to enter into discussions with the United States on the possibility of joining the missile defence program. No decision will be made until the results of these discussions are reviewed by cabinet but I think we are on solid ground in proceeding with these exploratory discussions, first, because it is the duty of a sovereign government to protect to the very best of its abilities the lives of its citizens. I think we would be failing in these responsibilities were we simply to wash our hands of this issue and leave all those decisions to a third a country.
Second, this proposal that Canada's participation in ballistic missile defence be lodged within Norad represents a continuity of more than 60 years where we in this country have played a meaningful role in the joint defence of the continent. It has served Canada well. Norad has served the United States well. Both countries are happy with that. MPs from all sides of the political divide who have visited Norad in Colorado Springs to my knowledge have come back impressed.
Norad has worked. Norad has been going for 60 years with the core responsibility of the joint defence of the continent against a number of different threats and enemies depending on the time and using technologies that have also changed through time. I think it is a logical extension of that continuity of more than 60 years that we explore with the Americans the possibility of our participation in missile defence and the lodging of that system within Norad.
Finally, this in no way detracts from the government's longstanding opposition to the principle of weaponization in space. Indeed, as I have just said, we will be better placed to advance those arguments within the system than we would be were we to stay out.
As I said at the beginning, this is not a fait accompli. The discussions have not yet begun. We will engage in these discussions. We will come back to cabinet and the government will take a decision.