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Missile defence program would mean smoother decisions, clearer threats: general

OTTAWA - Canada's top commander at NORAD says participating in the U.S. ballistic missile program would mean smoother decision-making in a crisis if — or when — a hostile missile were on its way towards the continent.

Lt.-Gen. Alain Parent, who is deputy commander at the North American Aerospace Defence Command, testified Monday before the Senate defence committee, but was careful not to advocate for one position or another.

He was asked by senators what the practical effects would be if the Harper government reversed a nearly decade-old policy of not being involved in the program, which was a political lightning rod from 2003-2005.

Parent said he's not currently privy to the high-level intelligence on potential threats from rogue states with missile capability, and that Canadian scientists are shut out of contributing ideas and solutions to the air defence network.

There are different levels of participation when it comes to missile defence, ranging from warnings, intelligence and command and control all of the way up to stationing anti-missile batteries on Canadian soil.

It would be up to the government to decide how far the country was prepared to go, he said.

"It would be for Canada to discuss with the U.S. in which part Canada would be interested and willing to invest and which part they would put off the table," Parent testified.

Both the Commons and Senate defence committees are studying whether it's time for Canada to join the program, which was ranked among the top priorities of the U.S. government during the administration of President George W. Bush.

The Harper government has remained silent except to say there's no change to the current policy.

Not all of Canada's geography is factored into the technical layout of the missile shield, something that would require detailed negotiations in addition to an outlay of cash, Parent said.

"What would need to be done to cover Canada?" he testified. "Canada would need to enter into negotiations with the United States and I figure that the United States would then establish what the delta is."

Two former Liberal defence ministers — Bill Graham and Dave Pratt — told a Conservative-dominated committee last week that Canada should participate.

Graham, who served as defence minister between 2004-2006, called it a good thing that the decision to stay out of the plan is being reviewed by Parliament.

The Liberal government's most recent opportunity to join the program was turned down in 2005. In the years since, the threat from rogue nations such as North Korea has only grown.

The capability of the regime in Pyongyang has gone from two-stage rockets capable of threatening Japan and other Far Eastern nations to three-stage missiles that could reach North America, Parent told the committee.

Parent also laid out a series of threats from a resurgent Russia, which is investing more in submarine ballistic missile capabilities.

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