Oliver Moore / Globe and Mail – 2005-02-25 08:46:08
TORONTO, Canada (February 24, 2005) — Days after informing the Washington, the federal government formally announced Thursday that Canada will refuse any further participation in the controversial missile defence shield that the United States is building.
Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew made the decision public after months of equivocating by the Liberal government and days of denials that a decision had been made.
“After careful consideration of the issue, we have decided that Canada will not participate in the US ballistic missile defence system,” Mr. Pettigrew said in the chamber of the House of Commons.
He insisted that the decision – which has reportedly left the Bush administration nonplussed – will not “in any way” hurt ties with the United States.
“We will carefully examine all options and pursue our priorities vigorously,” he said.
The announcement came only days after Frank McKenna, the next ambassador to the United States, set off a political storm by saying that Canada is already participating in the missile shield. He said that an amendment to NORAD, the continental joint air-defence pact, meant that Canada’s de facto participation had begun.
Mr. McKenna made his comments on Tuesday, about the time, Prime Minister Paul Martin has now acknowledged, that the United States received the formal refusal from Canada.
“The official Canadian position was conveyed by Foreign Minister Pettigrew to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at our meetings in Brussels,” he told reporters.
“Since then, I have discussed it with ambassador Cellucci, Mr. Graham has discussed it with [Deputy Defence Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz in the United States and I would expect to be discussing it again, with President Bush, hopefully today or in the very near future.”
Broad Public Opposition Was Key
Mr. Martin’s timeline contradicts comments from government MPs this week in the House of Commons, where opposition politicians were told that they would be informed “when a decision is made.”
On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Defence Minister Bill Graham insisted that nothing had changed on the missile-defence file and that a decision was forthcoming.
The minority Liberals could have lost if missile defence had come to a vote in the House of Commons. A number of senior government sources have recently told reporters in The Globe and Mail‘s Ottawa bureau that the federal government felt that the deep unpopularity of missile defence among Canadians made further participation a non-starter.
Mr. Pettigrew said that Canada will continue to contribute to the security of the continent through the expanded mandate of NORAD, which will track incoming missiles, and an integrated response to maritime threats.
“We will enhance the protection of North America,” he said. “…We will work closely to build the success of [border agreements] and engage Mexico to trilateralize, to better align our roles, priorities and interests.”
Mr. Martin said in his comments, made moments later after a cabinet meeting, that the Liberal’s military priorities are “the ones that we set out yesterday” in the budget, primarily borders, Arctic sovereignty, coastal defence, intelligence-gathering and increasing the size of the army.
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