Friday, February 16, 2007

Hillier a conservative prop

Liberals accuse Hillier of being 'a prop for the Conservative party'
CanWest News Service February 16, 2007

The Liberals have accused Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, of being a political “prop” of the Conservative government for referring to past defence cuts by the Grits as “a decade of darkness.”

Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre accused the usually outspoken defence chief of overstepping himself politically in a speech Friday to the annual meeting of the Conference of Defence Association Institute in Ottawa.

“It was highly political,” Coderre told reporters after Hillier’s one-hour address to hundreds of military delegates. “I never thought he would become a prop for the Conservative party...”
“To get involved in politics, there is one way: You should run.”

In his speech, Hillier made reference to the defence cuts the Liberals started in 1994.

“Over the past one to two years, we have begun to fully realize the immense, the negative impact of the defence expenditure reductions in 1994 and the lasting, almost negative legacy that they brought into effect that has to be put right,” Hillier said. “Those actions, dollar deprived, have now led to some deep wounds in the department, in the Canadian Forces over this past, what I would call, a decade of darkness.”

It was not the first time Hillier has used such imagery to describe what was a bleak period in the Forces history, but with a spring election a distinct possibility, the Liberals took offense. Coderre said it was unacceptable for Hillier to leave out an important part of the history: that the Paul Martin Liberals boosted defence spending by $13 billion in their final budget.

Coderre also pointed out the Liberals had a comprehensive plan to replace military aircraft and other equipment, including the Hercules air transport fleet.

The only difference between the Liberal and Conservative plans, Coderre said, was the Liberal plan did not include a $3.4 billion purchase of four C-17 Globemaster long-distance transport planes.

“He doesn’t need to buy those C-17s. If you want to save $3.4 billion and use that for the troops, for the quality of life, for the infrastructure, you don’t have to buy them you can lease them,” said Coderre, who added the Liberals inherited a $40 billion deficit from the Conservatives when they came to power in 1993 — and stayed in office until 13 months ago.

“So, talking today about 10 years of darkness, I don’t think it’s appropriate. I think it’s highly political and I am very disappointed by it.”

Hillier denied after his speech that it had any political intent.

“I’m not a politician. I don’t tread in those waters. My job as chief of defence staff is to describe clearly and paint a picture.”