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Residents line the road as five hearses carrying the remains of four fallen Canadian soldiers and Michelle Lang, a Canwest journalist from Calgary, embedded with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, drive past during a repatriation ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Sunday. (MIKE CASSESE/MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)
Residents line the road as five hearses carrying the remains of four fallen Canadian soldiers and Michelle Lang, a Canwest journalist from Calgary, embedded with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, drive past during a repatriation ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Sunday. (MIKE CASSESE/MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

Army reservists weigh heavy on employers Add to ...

The increased reliance of Canada's military on its volunteer part-time soldiers is imposing a financial burden on their employers that taxpayers need to help carry, a new analysis concludes.

Employers, for example, face additional expenses in recruiting and training temporary replacements for deployed employees, or higher overtime bills as others pick up the slack, says the report released Thursday by the C.D. Howe Institute.

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The situation has become particularly pressing in light of Canada's lengthy and intensive military involvement in Afghanistan.

About 20 per cent of the troop strength in the war-torn country comes from reservists, who fill myriad jobs as part of Canada's Afghan mission - from hard-edge combat roles or medics to clerical and logistics work.

Some have paid with their lives, most recently the four soldiers who were killed Dec. 30 when their light-armoured vehicle struck a massive roadside bomb outside Kandahar city - the same blast that killed Calgary Herald journalist Michelle Lang.

"Given the key roles Canadian reservists play in meeting Canada's increasing domestic and international security demands, policy makers need to rethink who pays for employer costs when employees deploy," said Colin Busby, a policy analyst with the Toronto-based think-tank.

Padre Sandy Scott, a minister in Prince Albert, Sask., said his deployment to Afghanistan is costing his St. Paul's congregation thousands of dollars.

There were recruiting costs involved in replacing him, as well as paying travel costs for his replacement to move from Vancouver, Padre Scott said.

Although his actual deployment to Afghanistan is expected to last about seven months, training and other preparation for the mission will mean an absence of closer to 15 months.

"Employers have to be really committed, and they have to be prepared to take a financial hit, as well as a hit to their programs," Padre Scott said.

"[Reservists]may not be able to go, because they fear if they do go, it will either put their employer in a position that's untenable or their employer won't support it."

Military figures indicate the Canadian Forces comprise around 90,000 personnel - about one-third of whom are reservists. Close to 10,000 of the part-timers are students; most of the rest are employed.

Currently, the military relies heavily on employer goodwill, stressing the value of reservist employees to companies.

"They are motivated and above all, they have been taught loyalty ... to the team, to the group, to the organization," the Canadian Forces Liaison Council states.

Most reservists take unpaid leaves of absence but federal and provincial legislation requires their jobs be kept open for them.

Constable Kevin Collier, who now plans ways to counter Taliban propaganda as a lieutenant at headquarters in Kandahar, said his Calgary police force was fully supportive of his deployment, even topping up his military salary - a cost indirectly borne by local taxpayers.

However, before becoming a police officer, he was compelled to quit several construction jobs just so he could go on his three-month training military courses, he said.

The report notes that both the Australian and British governments have programs in place to mitigate the financial stresses on employers, who might be reluctant to hire someone in the first place because of their military ties.

Mr. Busby is recommending a scheme to reimburse employers on a sliding scale based on the reservists' regular civilian earnings.

The cost, he estimates, would be about $26-million in 2010, decreasing as the Afghan mission winds down.

Such a system would share the costs of national defence actions more fairly, he said.

Padre Scott agreed.

"It's a critical piece that needs to be put in place," he said.

"With financial assistance, of course, some more resources in terms of people can be freed up, so I think it's an absolute necessity."

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