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Why does Canada's Defence Department need 20,000 stress balls?

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.

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

Order 20,000 stress balls. Orange ones.

The department needs the squeezable rubber stress-relievers on the double. The deadline for the order is 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 on a website that advertises government contracts doesn't say why National Defence needs so many stress balls, or why they have to be orange. It only says the balls are a "promotional item."

The contract will go to the lowest bidder from a list of pre-qualified companies.

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The department didn't immediately answer questions about the order.

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.

It wouldn't be the first time the department has passed out the malleable toys to its staff.

In October 2010, on International Conflict Resolution Day, soldiers at 8 Wing Trenton were encouraged to stop by a kiosk on the base to "pick up a stress ball, and partake of the cake that will commemorate this auspicious day," according to a military newsletter.

This week has certainly been a stressful one over at National Defence.

One of its naval officers is accused of passing secrets.

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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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