…Third, I draw the attention of honourable senators to the high potential for a significant Canadian contribution to international peace and security. We are an important middle-power country, and our leadership is needed in addressing the most compelling problem faced by the world community today. The continued existence of 30,000 nuclear weapons almost a decade after the end of the Cold War is an affront to humanity. Five thousand of these weapons are on alert status, meaning they are capable of being fired on 30 minutes’ notice.
The New England Journal of Medicine recently warned:
The risk of an accidental nuclear attack has increased in recent years, threatening a public health disaster of unprecedented scale. I was part of a Project Ploughshares team that conducted roundtables on the subject of nuclear weapons for community leaders in 16 cities in 10 provinces during the month of September. These two-and-a-half-hour roundtables were attended by 378 persons representing a wide range of Canadians: members of Parliament, members of provincial legislatures, mayors, municipal councillors, school board members, business and religious leaders, and so on. These informed Canadians want the Government of Canada to take an unambiguous stand in support of new, worldwide efforts to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
The International Court of Justice, the highest legal authority in the world, says nations are obliged to conclude negotiations leading to such elimination. Former military leaders, presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers around the world are calling for a global ban. The Abolition 2000 movement, supported by 1,000 non-governmental organizations, many of them right here in Canada, want negotiations completed by the year 2000. That would lead, then, to an international treaty that would take, perhaps, a quarter of a century to implement. The essential point is that failure to negotiate future eliminations now is leading to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
By testing their nuclear weapons a few months ago, India and Pakistan have exposed the cracks in the non-proliferation regime. As long as the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China – maintain their arsenals of nuclear weapons, other states will naturally seek to acquire them.
Since nuclear weapons have become the currency of power, how can we expect aspiring states not to acquire them? The current breakdown in the preparatory process for the 2000 review of the non-proliferation treaty reveals the central problem the world faces: Either there will be a global ban on nuclear weapons or they will spread to more nations, with escalating danger to the world.
Thus, a New Agenda Coalition of eight important states – Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden – was formed this summer to seek an unequivocal commitment from the states possessing nuclear weapons to start immediately a process of negotiation leading to the elimination of those weapons.
Canada has so far refused to join this new coalition. Why? Because NATO continues to insist, despite the logic of the post-Cold War era, that nuclear weapons are “essential.” That is NATO’s word. Trying to be loyal to NATO, Canada thus votes against resolutions at the United Nations calling for the commencement of negotiations. That has to stop. The vast majority of Canadians want an end to the terrible spectre of nuclear weapons. They want Canada to take a leading role in working with like-minded states to get negotiations going. I support the efforts of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
This week, the Middle Powers Initiative, a network of seven prominent, international, non-governmental organizations specializing in nuclear disarmament, sent a delegation to Ottawa. They were met by the Foreign Affairs Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, and were received by the Prime Minister. The delegation urged the Government of Canada to vote at the United Nations this fall for a new resolution sponsored by the New Agenda Coalition which would call upon states possessing nuclear weapons to start and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Canada should vote “yes” on this resolution.
There is not a shred of justification for NATO to keep its nuclear weapons in this new age of east-west partnership. NATO, which still has a valuable role to play in security questions, does not need nuclear weapons, and Canada should work to get nuclear weapons out of NATO.
Honourable senators, 14 years ago, I made what I thought was my last speech in Parliament. Taking my leave of the House of Commons after 12 years of service, I said:
Canada, with its history and geography, its freedom and democracy, its resources and technology, and its space and industry, is ideally placed to work for the conditions of peace.
By the unforeseen twists of fate, I now re-enter Parliament, and my first words are to repeat my call for Canada to work for peace, reconciliation and social justice in the world.
In my career as a journalist, author, parliamentarian, diplomat, and educator, I have been in every region of the world. There is no land more blessed than Canada.
The United Nations regularly attests to that fact. I love this country. I love Alberta, my home province. I love Quebec, the province of my birth. My children live in four different cities across Canada. I love St. John’s, and the whole of Newfoundland. I love Victoria, British Columbia, and the whole of Vancouver Island. I want this country to stay together. I want our people to work together. I want our political process to come together.
There is too much alienation in our society, too much polarization, too much confrontation. I want to contribute to a spirit of reconciliation, an atmosphere of healing, a new basis of hope, as we prepare for the third millennium.
We simply must find ways of offering genuine hope to young people so that they can truly benefit from a more equitable economy, a reformed Senate and a more dynamic role in world affairs.
Conscious that I am only one person, I will contribute all my strength to moving Canada forward. Together, we in this historic place can help build Canada anew.