Last week I listened to Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor, speak eloquently of what it was like to have her family, her neighbourhood, her city, vaporized in an instant of mass destruction. I wish everyone in this country could have heard her moving words. Setsuko has devoted her life to advocating for nuclear disarmament, to ensure that her experience will never be repeated.
Some would say it was that threat of mutually assured destruction through nuclear warfare that kept worldwide conflict at bay through the Cold War. Even now, 25 years after the end of the Cold War, there are more than 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world. The risk to the planet was, and remains, incalculable.
Canadians have long recognized the threat of nuclear proliferation and long called for nuclear disarmament. In 2010, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion that called on the government to deploy a major diplomatic initiative to increase the rate of nuclear disarmament.
The Liberal Party of Canada, only last year, adopted a resolution at their Winnipeg policy convention, that urged the government—their Liberal government—to convene an international conference to commence negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would ban nuclear weapons.
And yet the government’s actions in the past year go completely against that resolution.
The international community—over 130 countries are involved—is currently carrying out negotiations on the Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, just as the Liberal Party resolution requested. The problem is, not only is Canada not leading this process, it is boycotting it completely. Canada is not back on the international scene, it is backing away from its traditional leadership role in promoting a more peaceful world.
And Canada is backing away under pressure from the United States. Justin Trudeau said in the House of Commons last week that joining the negotiations would be “useless” as the nuclear powers are not present. Yet Canada led the world in the banning of land mines through a process in which the land mine powers, including the United States, did not, initially, participate.
These UN negotiations for nuclear disarmament are still going on. Canada could join and take a real and meaningful role in this essential project. But as I write this, the government is voting against an NDP motion to join these talks.
Opponents to a nuclear ban treaty say that disarmament must happen step-by-step, and that the time is not right for these negotiations, the world is not secure enough.
We have reached the edge of this cliff step by step over the last 60 years. The world will never be fully secure. We cannot wait for better conditions. We cannot afford to wait at all.
Yes, the nuclear powers will always oppose nuclear disarmament. But we must not bow to their wishes—we need to radically change the world view of the nuclear powers. It will not be easy. It will not happen overnight. But we must be bold, we must live up to our convictions and our moral duty, and work tirelessly for a nuclear weapons free world.
Richard Cannings is the MP for the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding.