OTTAWA – The Harper government has backed away from a proposal to claw back overpayments of danger pay for soldiers in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says soldiers won’t have to repay hundreds of dollars they got through an administrative error.
After an outcry two weeks ago, the Conservatives backed away from a plan to reduce danger pay for Canadian troops training Afghan soldiers in Kabul.
The proposal to cut the danger money by almost a third, or nearly $500 a month for each soldier, is under review.
Now, the government is backing off again.
Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair says Defence Minister Peter MacKay has lost control of his department.
“This is the second incident in two weeks where Conservatives have tried to short-change soldiers who are placed in harm’s way,” Mulcair said during question period.
Harper dismissed the pay problem as a mistake.
“Certain soldiers were paid more than they should have because of an administrative error,” he said. “That should not have been the case.
“It’s certainly not the fault of the soldiers themselves. For that reason the minister has made very clear they will not have to repay those amounts.”
MacKay said he has told officials to ensure the soldiers don’t get punished for the government’s mistake. “I firmly believe that this is unfair., to penalize soldiers and their families.”
Liberal MP John McKay said the government is trying to dodge responsibility.
“New day, new screw-ups. Blame the bureaucrats.”
The proposal to cut danger pay was made by a joint committee of bureaucrats from National Defence and Treasury Board which meets only four times a year.
They said Kabul is safer than Afghanistan’s volatile south, where Canadian soldiers no longer serve.
But there was an immediate and strong reaction, which left officials from the prime minister’s office on down calling for the committee to reconvene and reverse the decision.
Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney made it clear the governing Conservatives were not happy.
`”This decision was not appropriate, and we are asking for this decision to be reviewed,” he said.