Harper promises debate on expanded Norad treaty

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised a debate on a Norad treaty that reportedly gives Canada special responsibilities for sea attacks.

Canada has signed on for another tour of duty with Norad, with special responsibilities for attacks by sea, according to U.S. officials.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he would take the agreement to Parliament for a full debate before he signs the final papers.

That debate could come within days, he said.

"I am anticipating that we will be announcing this in the very near future, and as we have indicated to the opposition, we will be bringing this to Parliament for a full debate and a vote before we finalize the agreement," Harper told CBC News at a provincial Tory fundraiser in Moncton, N.B.

The Norad continental treaty hearkens back to 1958 and the Cold War, when Canada and the United States feared an attack from the former Soviet Union.

Named the North American Air Defence Treaty, it has since been adapted to include threats to North America from other potential enemies and from terrorists.

The current agreement was due to expire May 2.

The Norad treaty is best known through air-defence bunkers deep in the rocks of North America that are jointly staffed by U.S. and Canadian military. Some headquarters are deep underground near Colorado although Canada has a similar base in North Bay, Ont.

Word of the latest deal leaked out Saturday after U.S. defence officials said Canadian Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, renewed the agreement at a meeting in Ottawa Friday.

The U.S. officials said the deal commits Canada to indefinitely take part in Norad with added responsibility for terrorist attacks and the smuggling of drugs, and people, by sea. But Harper evaded questions on the tentative deal.

"I am not in a position to give you a definitive answer on that," Harper said. "I know there have been proposals looking at some extensions of Norad into the maritime area, but those haven't been finalized."

CBC News Online reported in February that Canada planned to extend the Norad treaty to include maritime surveillance. Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said at the time that the proposed treaty would not mean a loss of sovereignty over Canadian waters.

O'Connor also dismissed fears that it might lead to U.S. warships patrolling Canadian waters.

"It doesn't change our responsibility as a country," O'Connor said at the time. "We have to look after our own sovereignty. We have to deal with any threats coming from the sea."

He said the new provisions deal only with a "transfer of information" between the two countries about shipping and threats at sea.

O'Connor said such information would be sent directly to the Norad headquarters in Colorado, which is jointly staffed by the Canadian and U.S. military.