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Go to In the News indexDefence minister backs U.S. missile plan

If invited again, would reconsider Liberal decision. But final choice would depend on Commons vote

OTTAWA — Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor is prepared to reconsider the former government's choice not to join the Americans' ballistic missile defence scheme, but only at Washington's request.

Gordon O'Connor  worked as a lobbyist for companies in the defence and aerospace industriesNo final decisions would be made, however, unless a free vote passes in the House of Commons, O'Connor told reporters yesterday, echoing a promise Prime Minister Stephen Harper made during the election campaign. "In principle, I don't have difficulty, personally, with ballistic missile defence," O'Connor told reporters yesterday. (Note from TAA: O'Connor's appointment as Defence Minister generated some controversy because he previously worked as a lobbyist for companies in the defence and aerospace industries.).

But the likelihood that a vote would pass in the Commons is slim as the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois oppose Canadian involvement in missile defence, outweighing any possible support from the minority Conservatives.

"The technology is not proven at all. We're just opposed totally to the weaponization of space. It just takes that whole militarization another step — a scary step — forward," NDP defence critic Dawn Black (New Westminster-Coquitlam) said in an interview.

The U.S. system intends to use land-based rockets to intercept incoming missiles. And, although it's unclear what role it would like Canada to play, the Bush administration has sought Canada's participation.

A year ago, it appeared that Canada was about to join Washington's plans. But powerful opposition to the American plan came from within the Liberal party's ranks and, on the eve of the party's policy convention, plans for Canada to join were scrapped.

Now in opposition, the Liberals expect they'll continue to oppose missile defence. "We looked at the issue of ballistic missile defence very, very carefully and we were satisfied that the security of Canada was satisfied with NORAD, by providing more information to Canadians," said Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh, referring to the North American Aerospace Defence Command, which protects the continent from airborne attack.

"There were reasons to go into missile defence," Dosanjh said in a telephone interview, "but in fact, we believed that the disadvantages outweighed the advantages."

Supporters of Canada's joining the scheme argue it will strengthen the continent's defences against terrorist attacks and is bound to improve Canada-U.S. relations.

However, critics fear the U.S. plan risks creating the next great arms race and that it's of dubious value anyway.

O'Connor doesn't share those reservations and, as long as the Americans again extend an invitation for Canadian participation, he's willing to talk. "Our policy is the fact that the Americans would have to approach us to participate in ballistic missile defence, then we would enter into negotiation," he said. The result of those negotiations would have to pass a vote in the House.

But Dosanjh panned the government's motives. "Obviously, Mr. Harper wants to seek the approval of the Bush White House perhaps more than Canadians," Dosanjh said. "Canadians, in large numbers, are opposed to us joining in the ballistic missile defence."

O'Connor made the missile defence comments after giving his first major speech as minister.

He told a conference of defence groups that the Tories plan to carry through with their ambitious election promises, including 13,000 new regular soldiers, new icebreakers and a northern port, new transport planes and infrastructure.

With files from Canadian Press.

Source: The Toronto Star

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