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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Liberal leader Stephane Dion refused on Wednesday to rule out renewed cuts to the military if he defeats Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper in next week's election.
The Liberals slashed the defense budget by about one-quarter in the 1990s in their bid to eliminate fiscal deficits, leading to U.S. complaints that Canada was not carrying its weight in the NATO alliance.
The Liberals later reversed some cuts and the Conservatives, after taking power in 2006, expanded the size of the military and accelerated the purchase of equipment.
Canada has 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan as part of the fight against Taliban militants.
In an interview with CBC television, Dion declined to commit to not cutting military spending again if he wins the election on Tuesday.
"What I will say is that we will have strong discipline and we'll make sure that never we'll ask ... military forces something that's not realistic," said Dion, who trails Harper by several points in opinion polls.
When the interviewer pointed out that was not the same as promising no reductions, Dion replied, "No, but what I'm saying is that we have been good to have strong fiscal discipline in this country and to invest where we are sure that we'll have optimal results."
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Cooney