Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time this afternoon with the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
It is a delight to be participating in today's debate on the renewal of NORAD. As many members are aware, Canada and the United States have a long history of friendship. Our political, economic, social and cultural ties are the most extensive of any bilateral relationship existing in the world today.
Our defence ties are far reaching. Although we have always had and will continue to pursue an independent foreign defence policy, our geography, our history, our trust and our shared beliefs have made the Americans our close partners in the defence of our common continent. They have also made us natural allies in the pursuit of international peace and security.
NORAD is one of the pillars of this defence relationship but our co-operation does not end there. Members should be aware of the extent and importance of our military partnership. As it evolves to meet new demands and challenges this partnership will continue to play a major role in ensuring Canadian security and in enhancing international stability.
Canada and the United States have maintained a close security relationship since the end of the 1930s, when President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King united our two countries in a continental defence partnership for the first time.
During the second world war, our defence relationships expanded and deepened. That is how, under the Ogdensburg accord of 1940, the permanent joint board on defence was established.
As for the Hyde Park declaration of 1941, it united the Canadian and U.S. economies to counter aggression.
After the war as the east-west confrontation took root, the relationship continued to develop. As years passed, new bilateral agreements and arrangements, NORAD being the most famous, were added to the list. Today this list is very long. Our military partnership now includes 60 formal bilateral defence agreements, 200 memoranda of understanding and numerous service to service understandings. These agreements and arrangements cover virtually the entire sphere of military activity: joint planning and operations, combined exercises, defence production, logistics, communications, research and development, and intelligence. In all, there about 600 Canadian military personnel serving south of the border.
Canada and the U.S. consult in roughly 150 bilateral forums that require regular consultation, discussion and meetings. In addition to NORAD, this includes the permanent joint board on defence. The PJBD is the senior advisory body on continental security. It meets twice a year providing an opportunity for diplomats and military officials from both countries to discuss important and sensitive bilateral and international defence matters. There is also the military co-operation committee established in 1945. This forum allows our respective military staffs to meet and carry out combined military planning for the defence of North America.
Canada-American defence co-operation also includes an extensive network of defence production research and development arrangements which provide the framework for our close economic ties in this sphere.
The defence production sharing agreement signed in 1956 sets out the terms of bilateral trade in defence material. It allowed Canadian companies to compete with American companies on the American market.
The defence development sharing agreement signed in 1963 helps Canadian companies develop products for use by the U.S. armed forces and promotes research and development in Canada.
Trade in defence goods between the two countries amounts to almost $2 billion Canadian every year. Our longstanding industrial co-operation has resulted in a highly integrated defence industrial base.
We also have the Canada-U.S. test and evaluation program, allowing our countries to test important weapons systems at each other's military facility. This cost effective and flexible arrangement has become an integral component of our defence relationship.
And, naturally, Canada and the United States are tied by their membership in a variety of multinational organizations, including the UN, NATO, the organization responsible for security and co-operation in Europe as well as the Organization of American States.
Recently, we participated in a number of multilateral operations, such as the United Nations mission in Haiti and the activities conducted under NATO in Bosnia by the peace plan implementation task force, or IFOR.
Closer to home, Canadian and American military personnel have a long tradition of working closely with each other in operations and training exercises. At sea, Canada-U.S. co-operation involves the surveillance and control of vast ocean areas on both coasts and in the Arctic. We exchange information in support of search and rescue and any narcotic operations, co-operate in humanitarian emergencies and hold regular bilateral exercises at sea.
Canada-U.S. defence co-operation, having lasted through more than 50 years of evolving challenges, continues to thrive. The Canadian government believes that this co-operation still serves the fundamental interests of Canada. Although the world has changed dramatically in recent years, we must always be ready to co-operate with our American allies in the defence of North America. There may be no direct military threat to our continent at the moment but there are no guarantees for the future.
The government would like the Canadian Forces to be able to continue to work closely with the U.S. armed forces under various circumstances. We must bear in mind that there are other immediate benefits to maintaining a close relationship with the U.S. for defence purposes.
For example, extensive training and operational experience are gained by Canadians. We retain a useful degree of influence in critical areas of United States defence policy that directly affect us. We gain access to important defence related information. Canadian companies benefit from access to important technologies and the large U.S. defence market.
If the Canadian government remains firmly committed to its defence relationship with the U.S., we also understand this relationship must continue to evolve. Although Canada and the U.S. are cutting back on some continental defence activities, we are also looking into ways to preserve the Canadian-American defence relationship. NORAD is a perfect example.
Given the current international environment and urgent domestic priorities, it might be tempting for us to turn our backs on a longstanding co-operative agreement, but the lessons of history teach us that this would be shortsighted. While still conducting an independent foreign and defence policy, we must continue to work with the U.S. to meet the challenges of the coming century and to preserve our relationship as a source of stability in a turbulent world. The benefits of our defence partnership far outweigh the costs, all the more so since activities have been scaled back to deal with today's realities.
The Canadian and American governments must also show vision and imagination in ensuring this partnership has the capability to meet future demands. This new NORAD agreement being debated today offers clear proof we are following a wise path. That is what this government does best: it follows wise paths and gives good government.