OTTAWA–Andrew Scheer will announce tomorrow that a Conservative government would start talks with the Trump administration to join the U.S. continental missile defence program, the Star has learned.
While the U.S. has sought the Canadian government’s co-operation on a missile defence program since the early 2000s, successive governments — both Liberal and Conservative — have refused.
But two Conservative sources, who were not authorized to speak on the record, confirmed Scheer will announce a future Conservative government would pursue joining the program, which seeks to detect and stop missile attacks on the U.S. and its allies.
Scheer will also announce his party’s desire to “modernize” NORAD, the joint Canada-U.S. aerospace defence system, one source who had seen the text of the speech said.
The announcements will come as part of a speech Scheer is scheduled to deliver Tuesday in Montreal on the Conservatives’ approach to foreign policy. The speech is the first of five policy speeches Scheer is slated to deliver over the next five weeks.
The speeches could blunt that criticism, while giving voters a better sense of what the Conservatives expect to include in their election platform. In addition to foreign affairs, Scheer will deliver speeches on immigration, the economy, “confederation” and the environment.
The issue of a ballistic missile defence treaty with the United States has been a contentious one for successive Canadian governments. In 2005, then-prime minister Paul Martin refused to sign a deal with the Bush administration. Stephen Harper rebuffed similar requests from president Barack Obama, and the current Liberal government was similarly cold to the idea in its recently released defence policy overhaul.
“The threats facing North America have evolved significantly in the air and maritime environment … and weapons technology, including ballistic and cruise missiles, has advanced tremendously,” the defence framework reads.
“Canada’s policy with respect to participation in ballistic missile defence has not changed. However, we intend to engage the United States to look broadly at emerging threats and perils to North America, across all domains, as part of NORAD modernization.”
Canadian governments’ reluctance to join the American missile defence shield has typically had more to do with domestic politics than national security or defence considerations, according to Eugene Lang, an adjunct professor at the Queen’s University school of policy studies.
“There’s been a lot of political sensitivity around it for Canadian governments that were feeling it was going to be controversial for Canada to sign on to this thing,” said Lang, who served as chief of staff to two Liberal defence ministers.
“That was certainly the case in the early 2000s with the Bush administration because the Bush administration’s foreign and military policy was deeply unpopular in Canada. Now the Trump administration’s military and security policy, I don’t know if it’s deeply unpopular (but) we know Trump is deeply unpopular.”
Whoever wins the upcoming federal election will likely face increased pressure from the Trump administration to participate — and help pay for — a planned update of the U.S. ballistic missile defence system.
In January, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. will deploy a new space-based system for detecting and stopping ballistic missiles aimed at the U.S. and its allies. But Trump also said that the allies who benefit from that defence system will be expected to pay their share of the cost.
With files from the Canadian Press
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier