By Jan Creaser
The Minister of National Defence’s visit left some University of Calgary students questioning the future of Canada’s defence policy.
On Fri., March 10, Defence Minister Art Eggleton spoke generally on a variety of issues regarding Canada’s military, starting with a comment on the $400 million increase the defence budget will receive this year.
"This is a good news budget for the forces," said Eggleton. "It shows the government’s commitment to strengthen the Canadian Forces."
However, some were skeptical about Eggleton’s tone regarding the budget increase and how it will help the military achieve its goals.
"He was very positive about the budget," said Chris Bullock, a graduate student in the Strategic Studies Department. "Unfortunately, what’s been cut [in the past] is larger than what’s been put back in. Also, there was no definite announcement of where the money is going."
Eggleton also outlined a desire to improve housing and health care for military personnel, whom he called the military’s "most important resource."
Third-year zoology major and former army medic Andrew Beckett asked for more specific information regarding the minister’s comments on health care. Beckett wanted to know where Eggleton stood on implementing the recommendations of the Sharpe Inquiry, an inquest that acknowledged health hazards faced by Canadian soldiers in Croatia from 1992-94.
"My intention is to implement them," said Eggleton. "People go in well and come out sick, and we have the responsibility to look after them."
Beckett was only partially satisfied with the minister’s answer, saying that the issues surrounding the inquiry were far more encompassing than simply health care after the fact. He maintains that a lack of accountability within the higher levels of the Department of National Defence is the reason why Canadian soldiers remained at risk.
"This lack of accountability is costing Canadian soldiers their lives and their health," he said. "The leaders must be made aware that the decisions they make will be reviewed so that they will not be able to hide behind closed doors when problems arise."
Strategic Studies student Mike Schlueter, who spent 15 years in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, criticized the minister and the Liberal government for using the military as a public relations project.
"The Liberal government gutted the defence budget when they got into power and now the entire tone is that the armed forces are a concern for the government," he said. "How can you stand up and say the military is a priority when you’ve clearly established in the past that it’s not?"