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Top soldier rescinds order that 'surprised' MacKay

General Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of the Defence Staff, leaves a Parliament Hill press conference on May 14, 2010.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The chief of the navy's order to dock ships because of a budget squeeze has been overruled because it embarrassed Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

In an unprecedented step, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Walter Natynczyk, publicly belayed the order issued by a senior admiral, admitting it had caused Mr. MacKay unease.

"I heard Minister MacKay with regard to his guidance, but at the end of the day, in the military chain of command, it's my direction to rescind the order," Gen. Natynczyk told reporters at a hastily arranged press conference this afternoon.

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Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, the Chief of the Maritime Staff, issued a directive April 23 telling commanders that half of the navy's fleet of 12 Kingston-class patrol ships would be de-manned and docked, because budgets are tight and money needed to be devoted to frigates and submarines.

But on Thursday, Mr. MacKay insisted that decision had not been made: "These operational decisions have not been taken," he said. The decision was quickly un-made Friday.

Gen. Natynzyck took the blame for the confusion. "It's my job to make sure that my minister's not surprised," he said. It was not immediately clear if Mr. MacKay had been left in the dark about Vice-Adm. McFadden's order, or been taken off guard by the controversy around it.

The Conservatives have been at pains to insist budget cuts are not squeezing military operations, and in this, the Canadian navy's centennial year, the docking of ships because of a money crunch embarrassed the government. Mr. MacKay argued the navy had received $200-million more this year than last, but big-money spending plans to update or buy ships to replace old equipment meant money is tight.

Gen. Natynczyk said there will now be a review to see how where the military can find some money so it can float the fleet of Kingston-class ships, the all-purpose, highly-manoeuverable patrol and mine-sweeping boats that protect Canadian coasts. That money might be found by squeezing anywhere in the military, not just the navy, he said.

"I'm saying across the Canadian Forces. It's beyond the navy," he said.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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