Saturday, April 08, 2006

More Military Housing Buildup Promised in Canada

Canada's military will have bolstered troops and better equipment as it takes a more aggressive role in fighting terrorism and protecting Arctic sovereignty, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor pledged yesterday in his first major policy speech since taking office.

Sketching out the Conservative government's ambitious plan for a beefed-up armed forces, O'Connor said Canada remains committed to the dangerous mission in Afghanistan, adding it is "quite representative" of the aggressive missions that will become the future norm.

"The security situation on the ground is volatile and, sadly, we have already experienced casualties," he said. "But I can assure you that Canada will not be intimidated or deterred by terrorists."

NDP Leader Jack Layton has called for Canada to focus on peacekeeping roles abroad and demanded an urgent debate on the Afghan mission in the wake of Canadian casualties.

O'Connor vowed to explain the importance of the mission to Parliament, and said the government would also reopen the debate on missile defence system if the U.S. makes a formal request. Since all three opposition parties oppose the shield, a free vote to join the U.S. would not likely win support in the House of Commons.

But O'Connor vowed closer co-operation with the U.S., insisting Canada must begin to shoulder its share of responsibility for continental defence.

"The United States must know that Canada is a reliable defence and security partner," he said.

Also on the Tory defence agenda is adding 13,000 more soldiers and 10,000 reservists, adding modernized equipment and improving military base housing.

But Opposition Leader Bill Graham worried the sweeping Conservative plan will stretch resources too thin instead of building a focused, effective military. He also accused the Tories of making election promises with "very substantial" price tags the budget won't likely afford.


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