Socialist Party Would Withdraw From NATO But Bolster Defense At Home
TORONTO (AP) _ The socialist New Democratic Party, fresh from three parliamentary bi- election wins and ahead in the polls, said it would pull Canada out of NATO if it wins the next election and forms a government.
The party also said Thursday that it would withdraw Canada from the North American Defense Command, which has responsibility for surveillance and protection of the airspace around the continent.
At the same time, however, the party toned down an image that is regarded as radical by pledging to spend billions of dollars on defense at home.
A New Democratic Party government would buy more frigates, conventional submarines, minesweepers, helicopters, surveillance aircraft and transport planes to protect Canadian sovereignty, a policy paper released in Ottawa said. Canada’s NATO contribution of about 7,000 troops and two fighter squadrons in West Germany would return home, and all U.S. military activity in Canada, including cruise missile testing, would cease.
Canada would assume ″exclusive responsibility for the conventional defense of the northern half of North America,″ New Democratic Party defense spokesman Derek Blackburn told The Associated Press in an interview.
″It is time Canada assumed its security obligations as a separate but equal partner in the defense of North America. If we did so, former objections by the United States about the inadequacy of our contribution would no longer be legitimate,″ the document said.
The New Democratic Party, founded in 1961, is a traditionally third-placed party that has never governed and holds just 33 seats in the 282-member House of Commons. But under veteran leader Ed Broadbent the party has sailed into first place in the polls and stands ready to form a government if it wins the next election, due by mid-1989.
The latest Gallup Poll indicated the New Democratic Party with 41 percent of the vote, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s governing Conservatives with 23 percent and the main opposition Liberal Party with 35 percent.
Proof of the New Democratic Party’s strength came in elections last week when it swept three vacant parliamentary seats from the two main parties.
The straight-talking Broadbent has become the country’s most popular politician with calls for switching the tax burden to business, more social spending and nationalization of key industries in a mixed economy.
The party’s Achilles heel, however, has been its pledge to pull out of the 16-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization and scrap the 31-year-old North American Defense Commmand agreement with the United States for the air defense of North America.
The defense paper puts those positions in a more comprehensive perspective, Blackburn said. ″There was a helluva void there,″ he added. ″I know we’ll have to do some negotiating in Washington and Brussels to explain our position and allay fears, but Western defense against the potential threat from the Soviet Union is not in any way diminished.″ Blackburn said Canada would remain ″very strongly on the side of the Western democracies.″
The party backed NATO when it was formed in 1949. ″But the Europeans have come a long way since then and are quite capable of defending themselves,″ he said. Canada, meanwhile, must concentrate on its sea lanes and Arctic north.
Last month, the government unveiled a long-term plan to acquire 10-12 nuclear-powered attack submarines and new frigates.
Blackburn said the party would scrap plans for the nuclear-powered subs, but build up to 12 conventional diesel-powered submarines in a 20-year capital program costing about $15 billion and including up to 18 frigates.
″Protecting our sea lines of communication to Europe is of paramount importance,″ he said.
Instead of nuclear subs to patrol the Arctic ice, the party would rely on sonar and air reconnaisance. Annual defense spending would remain at its current level of about $7.5 billion, he said.
The New Democratic Party would proceed with the U.S.-Canada North Warning System to modernize DEW-line radar against Soviet air attack, but the system would be entirely built and staffed by Canadians, Blackburn said.
″The Pentagon may not at first be very warm to this idea. But they should see it as a means of freeing up a lot of their assets for other purposes.″ Under a new bilateral defense arrangement with the United States, military intelligence would be shared and the Pentagon informed of imminent threat.