Madam Speaker, as this is the first opportunity I have had to address this House I would like to congratulate the Speaker for his election to Speaker of this House as well as those designated as deputy and acting speakers. I am sure your jobs will be challenging and rewarding and I pledge my full co-operation with the House rules and proceedings.
My congratulations also to all members on their election or re-election to this Parliament. I look forward to meeting and debating with them on the important issues concerning Canada in a civil and productive manner.
Also I would like to thank the constituents of my riding of Athabasca for entrusting me with this most important job during this most important and changing time in Canadian political history. I truly feel honoured by the great responsibility with which they have entrusted me and they can be assured that I do not take this responsibility lightly. I will do my best to represent their needs and Canada's needs in this new Parliament.
I would like to send a special thank you to my wife, Evelyn, who has provided so much support and encouragement to me in meeting and accepting the challenges in this new role as member of Parliament.
I became involved in politics and became a member of Parliament because of a great concern I have for the future of our country, the greatest country in the world to live in. Also I have a great concern for this country because of the apparent out of control public spending and spiralling debt at a time of declining of natural resources and high unemployment.
Although this is my maiden speech, I wish to focus on the proposed cruise missile testing by the U.S. Although the Primrose Lake air weapons range, which will be the final destination for these exercises, is not in my riding, the flight corridor over which these missiles fly is in fact in my riding. Therefore these tests are of concern to my constituents and anything that could affect my constituents affects me as their representative in this House.
I would like to commend the government for allowing this debate on such an important topic. I hope that this government will have the same open forum in the future when this government reviews its defence policy as promised.
Before I speak to this issue let me tell a bit about my riding. The riding of Athabasca is in the northeastern part of Alberta and is approximately 196,000 square kilometres which makes it one of the largest ridings in Canada. To put this in perspective, if one combines the area of the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island then the area of the riding of Athabasca would still be larger. These provinces have 25 representatives between them in this House compared to one for Athabasca. You can imagine the enormity of my task in representing the constituents of Athabasca, however, I am ready and eager to accept all the challenges that await me.
The principal industries of Athabasca are agriculture, forestry, mining, oil and gas and tourism. More specifically, the diversity of my riding includes ALPAC, the largest bleach kraft pulp mill in the world. It will soon include a paper mill. Also, some of the most productive conventional oil and gas fields in Canada are located through Slave Lake and High Prairie in the northern areas of my riding. The Fort McMurray tar sands projects are in the northeast corner of my riding. These companies add enormously to the economic viability of the country.
For example, the companies that work the tar sands make a huge contribution to both the federal and provincial governments. These companies employ thousands of people, all of whom pay taxes to support this government's programs. Syncrude, which is only one of the consortiums working the tar sands projects, employs 10,500 people directly or indirectly from which $1.5 billion has been paid out in corporate and personal income taxes. These tar sands deposits are very significant to the energy needs of Canada. In fact, it is estimated that there are enough oil reserves in my riding to provide self-sufficiency for Canada's oil needs, given the current consumption of 1.5 million barrels per day, for centuries to come.
For example, the four known oil sands deposits are located in Alberta, two of which are in my riding. The total estimated bitumen contained in these four deposits is 1.7 trillion barrels. Of that, 307 billion barrels of bitumen recoverable with today's technology from the tar sands alone could supply Canada's energy needs for 475 years.
My riding of Athabasca also has a large aboriginal population with 12 bands, about 50 reserves and a number of Métis settlements. This large population has led to my interest in native self-government and it is why I sit on my party's aboriginal committee.
My riding also contains some of the most productive agricultural areas in Canada. The Westlock-Athabasca area has well known producers and exporters of high quality grain, oilseeds, pork and beef. I have been involved for many years in beef ranching and am proud to say that this is one of the least subsidized sectors in agriculture. It should be a model of free enterprise and free market operation for other areas of agriculture.
I agree with the comment my hon colleague from Essex-Windsor made in the House this past Monday when she said that a country that cannot feed itself is soon not a country and is at the mercy of every other nation.
Taking this one step further, I also believe and history proves that a nation that cannot protect its sovereignty cannot long survive. This brings me to the topic of discussion before the House today.
In 1983 the current Minister of Human Resources Development and Western Economic Diversification, who was then minister of defence, signed the original test evaluation agreement with the U.S.
Recently this minister claims that Canada no longer needs these tests because the cold war is over. The cold war may be over but this world is still if not more unstable than during the cold war period.
Instead of having one major threat, we now have many smaller threats. Although the Iron Curtain has fallen and they have opened their arms to us, this does not mean we live in a Utopian world. The recent gulf conflict in which both the Canadian Armed Forces and the cruise missile took part in made us astutely aware of that fact.
Canadian participation in these tests enables us to fulfil our obligations under the NORAD alliance but also to keep abreast of the latest developments in defence technologies. By participating in these tests our forces gain valuable operational experience that would otherwise not be available.
Also, if Canada is to be a member of such organizations as NORAD and NATO, my constituents and I believe we must be willing to participate in these organizations simply because we currently do not have the capacity without the support of our allies to defend our national sovereignty. I am not only speaking for myself but also for my constituents who are in the flight path of these exercises.
The records which I have researched do not contain one complaint, one petition or one letter opposing these exercises from the constituents of Athabasca. My constituents are also aware that there is no environmental threat to them.
The missiles used in these exercises are not armed. In fact, section 8 of the original Test and Evaluation Agreement states: "In no case shall nuclear, biological, or chemical warfare material be brought into Canada, and that the Cruise Missiles shall be unarmed".
Furthermore, the Department of National Defence has informed me that an extensive initial environmental assessment was conducted in 1983 and reviewed in 1989 and 1992. These studies showed that the cruise missile testing has no significant or adverse environmental impact.
Furthermore, section 13 of this same agreement states that the flight corridors in Canada which are used for testing cruise missiles shall be selected in consultation with Canadians to ensure minimum disruption to civil aircraft operations and minimum disturbances to people on the ground.
If this government were to rescind this agreement, an agreement that was signed by the Conservative government only last year, Canada as a participant in organizations such as NORAD would lose credibility as a nation that can be depended upon by our allies to co-operate in the preservation of peace and sovereignty in North America and the free world.
As I stated earlier in my speech, I have consulted with my constituents. They are willing to accept their responsibility as a member of NORAD. I believe Canada should do the same.