MacKay puts squeeze on DND stress relievers

OTTAWA — These are stressful times at National Defence.

OTTAWA — These are stressful times at National Defence.

Belt-tightening. Uncertainty. Maybe even pink slips.

Throw in a Cold War-style spy saga, and it’s enough to push even the most unflappable worker to the breaking point.

So what does top brass do to keep its staff sane?

Order 20,000 stress balls. Orange ones.

Serenity was on the way — until Defence Minister Peter MacKay got wind of the order.

“As soon as Minister MacKay was made aware of this contract, he instructed officials to immediately cancel this unnecessary expense of taxpayer money,” the minister’s spokesman, Jay Paxton, said in an email.

The department said it needed the squeezable rubber stress-relievers on the double. The deadline for the order was to be the end of March — just in time for the start of the new fiscal year.

The next Conservative budget is expected to cut deep. Departments and agencies have been ordered to trim their budgets by five to 10 per cent in the hope of saving the government $4 billion annually by 2014. It’s enough to make any bureaucrat sweat.

A notice posted Friday on a website that advertises government contracts didn’t say why National Defence needed so many stress balls, or why they had to be orange. It only said the balls were to be a “promotional item.”

The small rubber balls are popular giveaways at trade shows. They’re also an essential part of any cubicle inhabited by a repetitive-stress-injury-fearing office worker.

This week has certainly been a stressful one over at National Defence. One of its naval officers is accused of passing secrets.

Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Delisle is now in custody after being charged with communicating information to a “foreign entity.”

The government has so far refused to confirm or deny reports that the foreign power Delisle is accused of sharing information with could be Russia.

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