Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate. It is obviously a very important issue which will affect not only Canada's future but that of the United States and indeed the globe.
It is rare that I get up without a very specific and definite opinion on something, but in fact I think we have had quite a bit of discussion on extreme opinions on this issue. I would like to perhaps reflect for a few minutes on some of the issues at stake and how important it is that Parliament is having this debate and that it has a role to play in the ultimate decision to be made.
We have a long tradition of working cooperatively with the United States on the defence of the North American continent. I have some personal history on that, having served in the RCAF radar reserve squadron based at Uplands Airport and having served on the Pinetree Line of radar stations in the 1950s. I have to balance that long tradition of working for our common defence against other considerations.
We also have a long tradition in Canada of opposing the proliferation of weapons, of working for the reduction of weapons around the world, of working for arms control, and of working diplomatically and multilaterally for stability in the world to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction or major weapons of any kind.
I do not know how many people in the House will remember a video called If You Love This Planet by Helen Caldicott, in which she talked about the fact that the world possesses enough atomic weapons to destroy the entire globe 14 times over. This obviously consumes a great deal of the world's resources, represents an ongoing danger to the world, and deprives us of the capacity to deal with many of the important needs of the people who are on this planet with us.
Finally, I would say that one of our long term traditions and unalterable positions is that of opposition to weapons in space. There is an issue about whether a ballistic missile defence system will work. I am grateful to the constituent who sent me a copy of an article from Physics Today , the publication of the American Institute of Physics, around the practicalities of either boost stage interception of missiles or later interception of missiles, either of which present significant technical problems and difficulties.
Nonetheless, the Americans are proceeding this October with the first phase of a missile defence system, so should Canada be involved in discussions about possible involvement in that and our relationship with the Americans around that system?
I think we need to know more. Are there costs to Canada? What are we being asked to contribute? What are our priorities? If there are costs involved, if we are expected to contribute financially, then how much and what other things will we not be able to do because we are doing that? If participation involves Canadian money, is participation more important than other things that we need to and must do for our military? Would this involve some establishments on Canadian soil?
Parliament does not know these things. The opposition does not know these things. I think before we can make a reasonable decision on this issue, we have to know these things. We will only find out some of this, first, if we are involved in discussions and, second, if Parliament is kept fully informed of those discussions.
I would like to put forward some reasons that would not be good reasons to enter into an agreement of this kind.
Pleasing the United States is not a good enough reason. This country has forged and will continue to forge its own foreign policy and, as a result of that, its own defence policy.
The argument that this presents research, technological and commercial opportunities for Canada--in other words, money--is also not a good enough reason to enter into this. Simply because it might be good for our defence companies is not a good enough reason.
I will share with the House and with the minister my concern about some of the wording in the letter he has sent to Secretary Rumsfeld, which seems to imply that the issue is not whether we are part of this but under what conditions.
I note that the minister is in the House and I appreciate that he is here to hear my comments. I am concerned about such wording as the following:
It is our intent to negotiate in the coming months a Missile Defence Framework--
It also states:
We believe that our two nations should move on an expedited basis to amend the NORAD agreement to take into account NORAD's contribution to the missile defence mission.
It is important that discussions continue and that we not dismiss out of hand an opportunity to have some influence on what the Americans are doing and will be doing. However, I have said that I think Parliament has a crucial role to play here. This government has talked about democratic reform, about giving members of Parliament more authority, and on this I think it is at least as important as the Kyoto accord. I would urge the government: before decisions are made, Parliament should be able to express its opinion in a vote.
I think, however, that it is equally important, because there have been extreme positions and information put out on both sides of this issue, that the government keep Parliament informed, both directly and through its committees, and that there be regular briefings on what the discussions are and how they are proceeding so that this Parliament can develop its own opinion and have an opportunity to express that opinion.
Finally, I will say that it is a long and fine tradition of the Liberal Party, which is the current government, that defence policy follows foreign policy and is governed by our foreign policy and our role in the world, not vice versa. As we proceed on this, we have to look to our long traditions, those traditions I mentioned at the beginning. The reduction of weapons, multilateral diplomacy, opposition to weaponization of space, and arms control have to remain our objectives in order for us to work toward a more peaceful world, not to work toward a world that continues to be based on an arms race of one kind or another.