Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about the Norad agreement.
I visited the Norad command centre at Cheyenne Mountain on two occasions in my years as defence critic. I was extremely impressed by what I saw there.
First, the mountain itself is very impressive. When you go into the heart of the mountain, and you see the entire detection system and the military people controlling it, it is very impressive. There are almost as many members of the Canadian military in the centre as there are American.
It is very impressive to witness a simulated attack on North America. The simulation sent shivers down our spines. No matter where on the planet a missile is launched, the Cheyenne Mountain command centre detects it in less than about 15 seconds. Not only is it capable of detecting it, but its destination is known about one minute after the launch. In terms of detection, that is very impressive.
The command centre is equipped with incredible instrumentation and programs like the Space Detection and Tracking System have also been created. The centre has a catalogue of 15,000 objects orbiting the Earth in the atmosphere. The catalogue is very important; when space shuttles are launched there must be no dangerous debris in their trajectories. It is truly impressive. I was very glad to have gone on those two visits.
The Norad treaty is an evolving treaty, like many others. It is evolving because we live in a world that is continually changing. Treaties must therefore be capable of adapting to this new environment.
I think that it is important to review the history and prehistory of Norad if we want to understand where we are today, and perhaps see where we will be in a few years. I will take a few minutes to do that.
In terms of Norad's prehistory, we can talk about the first detonation of a nuclear weapon in 1945 over Japan. That was a watershed in the history of humanity. From that moment on, people realized that this was a terrible weapon that could not just be used for anything at all. Naturally, the Americans had won that arms race—the nuclear arms race.
Soon after, Western powers, especially European, acquired nuclear weapons. Russia, among others, successfully developed nuclear weapons. So did Great Britain. And France. At that time, an exclusive club, made up of those four major powers, was equipped with nuclear weapons. Today, that club has grown substantially. This coincided with the end of the war against Germany and the division into two separate blocs, which began in 1945. There was the Warsaw Pact, associated with Russia and Eastern Europe and NATO, which at the time included only six or seven countries.
One of Western Europe's deterrents was atomic weapons. The Warsaw Pact had massed troops on Western Europe's doorstep. As a deterrent, Western Europe said that it had nuclear fire power. This marked a beginning. The Americans then decided that they had to keep an eye on Russia, since the Russians now had weapons--just as did allies of the Americans. This is how it all began.
Around 1954, the Americans decided to begin detection so that if airplanes, Russian bombers, were headed toward North America, an action plan would be implemented to send them back where they came from and even shoot them down, if necessary. At the time, it was only a question of airplanes; there was no other way to drop a nuclear weapon on the North American continent.
So the Pinetree Line was the first network situated in southern Canada. It consisted of 33 radar stations. It served to monitor approaching aircraft. However, technology was not well developed in those days. Three years later, the distant early warning line—DEW line—was created. The network was pushed further north to give them more time to react once the radar detected the planes approaching. At the time, the aim of the DEW line was to provide three hours' advance warning of a Russian attack on the American continent. This is why Canadian air bases are important now. They were just as important then. Fighter planes could take off from Winnipeg and Bagotville, as is still the case.
You will have guessed that the situation has changed and we have to deal with attacks that are much more impressive and harder to stop. There are the ICBMs, the intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are very hard to block. The Americans are just beginning to see how to block them. In my view that is a mistake. I will talk about this shortly in connection with the missile defence shield concerning which the Bloc has been very active.
So, then, an attack could be predicted three hours in advance. Now there is what is known as the North Warning System, where all the data are kept. I visited the DEW line at Hall Beach just before the latest election. I was very impressed by the whole series of radar stations where there was nobody. Just two people look after the maintenance of the 57 stations.
I note in passing that, at the time, native peoples, particularly the Inuit and the Dene wanted to be consulted on the operation of the DEW line. They had claims on the land. I believe an agreement was finally reached with them, ATCO Frontec and an Inuit organization. They created what today is known as the Nasittuq. It is the group operating and maintaining the whole North Warning System line.
It is also important to note that the aboriginal peoples also have a stake in the matter. I confess to being impressed. A team had gone to check a radar installation that was no longer working. The team had left two weeks earlier and could not return because of a storm in the area. There was concern at the time. Their fate was unknown and a reconnaissance team was going to be sent out. This is how the aboriginals came to be involved and to give their consent. Maintenance and operation of the north warning system are important. Americans fund 60% of the program and Canadians fund 40%. This is a source of significant income for the Inuit of the far north. The arrival or the new fear of intercontinental ballistic missiles was very important.
The doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) came into existence at that time. It was pure folly—as in madness—because if one country attacked another, it too would be destroyed. It was mutual destruction. Whether or not we believe it, this doctrine remains current since everyone knows that if a ballistic missile is launched at the United States, the country launching the missile will probably disappear from the face of the earth.
Aboriginals maintain and operate the north warning system.
As I stated, it is an evolving treaty. On August 5, 2004, there was an agreement. Minister Pratt wrote to his counterpart, Mr. Rumsfeld, advising him that he was ready to enter into discussions. Fortunately, huge demonstrations were held in Montreal to protest the missile defence shield. In the House, the Bloc Québécois questioned the minister almost every day. This led the Liberal government to finally state that it would not be part of the missile defence shield.
Nonetheless, through a diplomatic letter—which is the equivalent of a treaty—Minister David Pratt said he was prepared to modify the Norad agreement. Then the next step was taken. It was no longer just about detection. USNORTHCOM had Norad's information used for determining the plan of action, because at Norad there are two commanders: a U.S. commander and a Canadian deputy commander. They alternate in command of Cheyenne Mountain, which I was talking about earlier. If North America is attacked, they have to call the Canadian prime minister and the U.S. president. It is the U.S. president who will decide on the course of action.
This is new. There was no longer just Norad. Norad continues to conduct aerospace detection, but North American defence is now assured by USNORTHCOM. Naturally, USNORTHCOM said, “If Canadians do not want to take part, we will not give them a place in USNORTHCOM”. Personally, I agree with that. I do not want to repeat all the arguments that have already been made on the missile defence shield, but we think the threat was overestimated in terms of the mutually assured destruction doctrine I mentioned earlier. On whole range of issues, this was truly costing a fortune and the technology was not there. In my opinion, we did well not to join the missile defence shield. Nonetheless, this is a significant change.
I have to say that the Bloc is somewhat satisfied with this evening's debate. For years, we have been saying in this House that international treaties should be brought to the people, to the elected members of the House of Commons. This treaty was brought before us this evening, but unfortunately, we were disappointed to find out from the media that the Minister of National Defence and the American ambassador had signed some kind of agreement in principle. Later, the members attended a briefing and were told that we could not amend it. Furthermore, time is running out because according to the briefing and military personnel, the doors to Norad will close on May 12 and there will not be any more Norad. I have a problem with this situation because they are telling us to hurry up and pass it without amending it. Then we find out that the agreement is practically signed already.
I believe that the next time we sign an international treaty, more consideration should be given to members of Parliament, who should be allowed to debate the issue properly. A proper debate does not mean members of the House of Commons standing to vote on Monday. It means holding consultations. We should consult the people. This is an international treaty that will have a serious impact. It will be expensive to maintain. The DEW Line is expensive to maintain, as is the Canadian command, which I will discuss a bit later. Canadians, who are taxpayers, should find out more about this kind of international treaty.
I would now like to turn to the information process, as I see that my colleague from North Bay is here. The way this works—