Tories, Alliance rebels split on missile plan
By Jen Ross
Despite their efforts to reach common positions, Conservative and Democratic Representative Caucus politicians were leaning in opposite directions yesterday on whether Canada should support the U.S.'s proposed national missile defence system.
Both sides say they are undecided after hearing various experts speak about the system at a joint briefing on Parliament Hill.
Throughout the day, however, Conservative leader Joe Clark appeared skeptical about the defence system, while Democratic Representative Caucus member and former Alliance foreign affairs critic Monte Solberg suggested Canada should back it.
"Doesn't it make sense to state publicly that we support NMD?" said Mr. Solberg. "If it's going that way in any event, maybe we should have jumped on the bandwagon sooner."
Mr. Clark appeared to question the need for the system, asking if there was "any real threat from 'rogue states'." He stressed the need for arms control and expressed concern after hearing Queen's University Professor Louis Delvoie suggest a scenario in which Russia might build up a capacity to "swarm" such a defence system.
The proposed missile shield, whose cost is estimated in the tens of billions of dollars, would be designed to shoot down ballistic missiles.
Mr. Clark supported nuclear disarmament and opposed "Star Wars," which was advocated by U.S. president Ronald Reagan and is the forerunner of missile defence system.
The apparent divide between the Tories and the Caucus, who have been co-operating closely in recent weeks, highlights their potential difficulty in finding common ground on certain key policies -- a problem they will confront at a meeting next week at Mont Tremblant, Que.
"When we went into the discussions we knew full well that the parties may come out with different positions," said Mr. Clark. "We don't know, as a matter of fact, if that will be the case. I have not had an opportunity to discuss with my colleagues in my party the position we might take."
At a simultaneous press conference early yesterday, the NDP urged the Tories to get off the fence.
"The New Democrats are deeply concerned about the lack of commitment from the other political parties to just say No," said NDP leader Alexa McDonough.
"It's dreaming in technicolour to think that the militarization of space is somehow going to make the world a safer place."
Ms. McDonough said she was invited to participate in the joint briefing, but declined because the NDP already knows where it stands. She also accused the Tories of already having a set agenda going in -- to support the defence system.
"I think it's morally indefensible to use an issue as clear and important and dangerous as that as part of a strategy for uniting the right," said Ms. McDonough.
Yesterday's briefing was also attended by one Liberal and some Alliance MPs.
Mr. Clark also mentioned at a press conference that he would be taking into consideration a letter he received last week from deputy Alliance leader Grant Hill, suggesting talks about co-operating in the House of Commons.
The Liberal government has yet to decide how it will respond if the United States decides to deploy the NMD System and then invites Canada to participate.