News / Canada

North Korea threat means time to consider missile defence, says Tory critic

OTTAWA — The time has come for Canada to seriously consider joining the controversial U.S. ballistic missile defence system for North America, says the new Conservative foreign affairs critic.

North Korea's increased capability to potentially reach the continent with a long-range missile is a game changer, Erin O'Toole said in an interview Thursday.

"We now for the first time beyond the Cold War have a credible threat to North America from a ballistic missile," said the Ontario MP, who was appointed this week as part of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's new shadow cabinet.

North Korea test-fired a rocket over Japan earlier this week that landed in the northern Pacific Ocean, the latest in a series of missile tests that has ratcheted up tensions across south Asia and with the Trump administration.

"We know the trajectory for that missile would make parts of Canada vulnerable."

O'Toole urged the government to raise missile defence as part of discussions with the U.S. on upgrading their joint continental air defence command, Norad.

Canada's lack of participation in U.S. ballistic missile defence has been an explosive political issue for decades. A minority Liberal government opted out BMD in 2005 after a long political debate and strong opposition in Quebec, while the Conservatives avoided the issue for their near-decade in power.

O'Toole's remarks come after fellow Conservatives MPs refused to stake out a position for their party on missile defence last week when the House of Commons defence committee held a special meeting on North Korea.

At least two Liberal MPs have said they think the time has come for Canada to consider joining. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada's decision to stay out of the Pentagon's missile shield isn't about to change any time soon.

Liberal MP John McKay said in an interview Thursday the government's original decision was taken 12 years ago and "was based upon a set of facts in a certain political environment."

"Cleary, the threat assessment has changed quite dramatically. The political environment has changed also quite dramatically."

The Commons defence committee is well-placed to examine those changes, said MacKay, who was the parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan until January.

O'Toole criticized Trudeau for shutting the door on Canada's participation in the U.S. missile shield program, saying he was being naive in the face of an escalating threat.

Canada could raise the subject again with the U.S. by framing it as part of a "modernization" of Norad, which was created in the 1950s to deal with the Cold War nuclear threat posed by the Soviet Union, he said.

"We're so-called modernizing NAFTA, aren't we?" O'Toole asked. "Why would we not modernize Norad?"

The government said in its recent defence policy review that it planned to discuss with the U.S. ways to upgrade continental defences against several threats, including ballistic missiles.

"While Canada's new defence policy does not change our position on BMD, it does commit us to continue ongoing collaboration with our U.S. counterparts on ways in which we can evolve our approach to North American defence," Jordan Owens, Sajjan's spokeswoman, said in an email.

O'Toole said raising ballistic missile defence would fit the Trudeau government's broader goal of finding constructive ways to engage with the Trump administration. He suggested it might even put Trump in a better mood as the North American Free Trade Agreement is being renegotiated.

"If we're trying to also show the Trump administration that we're partners on things, at least having the discussions is critical."

Trudeau committed Canada to a United Nations peacekeeping mission in response to a 2015 call by former president Barack Obama — a commitment that Canada still hasn't delivered on, he noted.

"He was doing that in many ways to show a partnership, an alliance with our important friend. This (BMD discussion) would also do that without the deployment to a very uncertain UN peacekeeping mission."

More on