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MacKay faces job cuts at DND - and an eager rookie nipping at his heels

Defence Minister Peter MacKay arrives to be sworn in at Rideau Hall on May 18, 2011.


The anticipated slash and burn of the public service by the newly-minted Conservative majority government could be starting at the Department of National Defence. Reports Thursday morning say 2,100 jobs will be cut over the next three years.

This as Defence Minister Peter MacKay attempts to defend what many see as his diminished role. In the cabinet swearing-in last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Julian Fantino, the former top cop in Ontario, as Mr. MacKay's Associate Minister in charge of procurement, which comes with a huge budget that is between 14 and 16 per cent of the department's $22-billion total.

And then Wednesday, the Prime Minister named up-and-coming rookie MP Chris Alexander, the former Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan, as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Defence.

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This one-two combo of Mr. Fantino and Mr. Alexander will give Mr. MacKay fierce competition. While some pundits believe this could be a problem for Mr. MacKay -much of his power seems to be in Mr. Fantino's hands now - others say the Defence Minister will be fine as he is held in high regard by the Tory caucus.

He will need that goodwill, given a report in The Ottawa Citizen detailing deep cuts at DND - cuts that may be reflected in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's June 6 budget.

According to defence reporter David Pugliese, the cuts will be done through attrition. In addition, he writes, some public servants would be transferred to other jobs within the department. His report notes there will still be 24,790 full-time public servants at DND after the proposed reductions.

It is expected that the upcoming budget will have measures to reduce federal program spending. Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who needs to find $4-billion in cuts, says there are no sacred cows - so it's entirely possible that defence, a department that has seemed untouchable since the Tories came into power, may now suffer the same fate as other departments.

On CTV's Question Period last weekend, John McCallum - the former Liberal defence minister - criticized DND headquarters in Ottawa as " super bloated and getting more and more bloated every year."

Mr. McCallum, who also served as the chair of the expenditure review committee in 2005 that found $11-billion in savings over five years, advised the Harper government to focus its cuts at Defence. "You cannot ignore Defence because Defence is a quarter of the $80-billion based on which they're finding their cuts."

He also urged the Harper government to be fair in making its cuts. Don't attack immigrant groups or housing on reserves, Mr. McCallum suggested, and also use a regional lens so the pain is spread out throughout the country. "Left to its own devices the public service will focus the cuts outside of Ottawa in the regions where the jobs and services are most needed."

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No buyer's remorse with Tory majority, poll shows

After the barrage of daily polls during the five-week election campaign, Canadians must be feeling starved of horse-race numbers and margins of error. Welcome, then, to Abacus Data - the pollster for Sun Media.

Its latest survey, released Thursday, shows that Canadians are so far happy with their choice on May 2. Maybe that's because nothing has happened yet?

The Tories are at 40 per cent support compared to 33 per cent for the Official Opposition NDP. The Liberals are at 16 per cent, the Bloc at 6 and the Green Party at 5 five per cent.

One note: Abacus pollster David Coletto says that despite the commentary and some criticism about the NDP strength in Quebec, Quebeckers are still supportive of their decision to send 59 New Democrats to Ottawa. In Quebec, the NDP has the support of 43 per cent of decided voters.

The online poll of 1,544 Canadians was conducted between May 18 and May 19. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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