One of Ottawa’s most heated ongoing debates is over how Rick Hillier is seen inside government. Is the chief of defence staff a hero, the populist soldier’s soldier who sells the Kandahar mission like no politician ever could? Or is he a headache, an egotist who talks and spends too much? Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s declaration of confidence in him last week refuted reports the general is about to be dumped. But speculation that powerful forces want him brought to heel continues unabated.
A sharp insight into who might be leading a push to restrain Hillier comes in the new book The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar, excerpted in last week’s Maclean’s. Written by Liberal insider Eugene Lang and University of Toronto foreign affairs expert Janice Gross Stein, the book reveals that Kevin Lynch, now the country’s top mandarin of all as clerk of the Privy Council, is a long-standing skeptic on military spending. Lynch is described as “a well-known opponent of the Defence Department.” As a Finance official, he “successfully urged draconian
[Defence] cuts” in the Brian Mulroney era, and later opposed channelling post-9/ll security funding into “the black hole of Defence.” The authors quote former Liberal industry minister John Manley saying, “Kevin hates Defence, he hates Foreign Affairs.”
One recent signal suggests Lynch might still be dubious about Defence spending. In a shakeup of top public servants last month, hard-nosed bureaucrat Robert Fonberg was named Defence’s new deputy minister—likely Lynch’s pick. Fonberg has no Defence credentials, but most recently worked at the Treasury Board overhauling federal spending controls. He’s known as a budgetary disciplinarian who is impossible to intimidate. Hillier, it seems, might face a battle on the home front. M
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