Federal budget cuts stripping Canadian cadets of cash for new clothing are disgraceful, says the local community relations officer for the League of Army Cadets.
Brian Koshul, who is based in Winnipeg, calls the cuts an insult and a disgrace, especially since cadets pride themselves on their identity.
"Everybody's supposed to look the same, and we're going to tell the kids that we don't have enough money?" he said Friday. "It's a shame and an insult."
The cost to outfit a cadet entirely is around $550, a price Koshul says is more than reasonable.
"We don't throw this stuff away, they turn it back in once they're finished. As it turns out, cadets aren't always getting new uniforms anyway," he said. "It boggles my mind that we can't find $2 million dollars in Canada to clothe these kids."
Announced Thursday, the $2-million cut to the $13-million cadet budget affects all cadet purchases. Cadets will be forced to wear their own clothing once supplies run out, including items such as gym wear and winter parkas.
'Everybody's supposed to look the same, and we're going to tell the kids that we don't have enough money? It's a shame and an insult'
Each cadet was formerly given a complete set of army-style fatigues upon entry.
The Canadian Forces says it remains committed to ensuring every cadet gets one basic uniform -- though now it may be a used one, borrowed from others. Cadets are being told to acquire their own parkas, as well as their own T-shirts and other workout clothing.
"Regrettably, you will have to wear your personal parka over your uniform if the weather conditions warrant it," said a Dec. 13 order from Col. Conrad Namiesniowski, director for cadets and junior rangers.
"I also urge all Cadets to dig into their closets for uniforms that they no longer wear and to seek out those uniform pieces that friends no longer with the program may have," says the order.
The Cadet League is run by the Department of National Defence, which oversees the budget. Koshul said the cuts came because the Conservatives are trying to balance the federal budget by the next fiscal year.
"They spend over $20 million a year on (Canada's Economic Action Plan), telling Canadians what a great job they're doing. If they shut that down for a month, they could pay for the uniforms," he said. "It's so unnecessary, the excess the government spends every day."
There are 53,000 cadets in Canada.
A spokeswoman for the cadet program said there was little warning about the budgetary gear-grab.
"It came from left field," Capt. Kimberley Caron said. "We've suspended the ordering of parkas, just because they're really costly."
"We do not expect parents and/or cadets to purchase any of the uniforms."
Cadets often have more than one uniform, for ceremonial and other uses. She said the military can now promise only one uniform for each cadet.
"We want to ensure that when the new kid wants to join, that we actually have a uniform of some form," she said. "It's a pride thing. They want to feel like they belong."
Maj. Mike Lagace, senior public affairs officer for the Regional Cadet Support Unit (Northwest), said there won't be much of a change, and the cuts are just a monetary measure until the next fiscal year begins in April.
"It'll have no real effect on the capability of our program. We did shut down the orders for the coats; a nice piece of the kit that they didn't really use anyways," he said.
Lagace, who is based in Winnipeg, said the cadet leadership always makes sure cadets are properly cared for and have uniforms.
"Primarily, cadets each have their own uniform, and that's the greatest concern for us," he said.
The Canadian Forces have been undergoing a wrenching period of cuts big and small, including to equipment. Last week, Canada's chief of defence staff announced the army would not proceed with a long-planned purchase of armoured vehicles, saving $2 billion.
Among other measures to save dollars: trucks and other vehicles in the existing fleets have been mothballed, potted plants have been banned at headquarters and the army is doing more virtual training.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson announced Oct. 2 the cadet program was undergoing a "five-year renewal" that will boost the numbers to 70,000 and increase resources.
The cadet program places youth aged 12 to 18 in navy, army and air force programs, with more intensive training in the summer.
-- with files from The Canadian Press