OTTAWA – The Conservative government found itself on the defensive Thursday on multiple fronts over impending cuts to the military.
New Democrats in the House of Commons accused the government of “going down a road of reckless cuts” by asking the military’s medical system to contribute to its deficit reduction plans.
The government leader in the Senate simultaneously turned aside opposition attacks based on a study suggesting overall budget cuts at National Defence could run as deep as $2.5 billion.
Documents showing the former Canadian Forces surgeon general had to fight tooth and nail to prevent cuts last spring generated the strongest broadsides against the government. Commodore Hans Jung went around his immediate superior and pleaded with top brass to prevent the cuts, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press.
That incensed Quebec New Democrat Christine Moore, a nurse and former member of the military.
“Have they no shame? Why go after the delivery of health care to Canadian soldiers?” she asked in the Commons.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said over $100 million has been added to the military medical care since the Conservatives came power in 2006, bringing the health system budget in his department to over $400 million.
“We are actually now at an all-time high when it comes to the health services provided to members of the Canadian Forces, particularly mental health,” MacKay responded.
Although cuts last spring were frozen, the military’s health system is still expected to contribute up to 10 per cent of its budget towards deficit reduction.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris said that is not right and the medical section, which did not experience the same growth as combat arms section over the last decade, should be exempt.
A research paper released earlier this week by Carleton University’s Centre for Security and Defence Studies warned that the military’s flexibility to absorb budget cuts is not as strong as it was in the 1990s.
The in-depth analysis of the twin fiscal wallops of the Harper government’s strategic review and the Deficit Reduction Action Plan could cut into the military’s readiness, particularly its ability to respond quickly to a crisis.
Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton, Leader of the Government in the Senate, dismissed the study, adding she takes what she reads out of universities with a grain of salt.
“Every day one group or another proclaims various things that will be happening in the government,” she said in debate on Tuesday. “In this case, I saw that report. I did not find it to be credible. Everyone has their opinions on all of these things, but they turn out more often than not to be not even close to the facts. Obviously, the Department of National Defence, like other departments, is looking for savings.”