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Former general accuses Tories of smear

Former general accuses Tories of smearMinister of Defence Rob Nicholson responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, February 12, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - A retired general who once led Canada's troops in Afghanistan is accusing the federal Conservatives of a "personal attack" over his moving expenses to undermine his new role as a Liberal adviser.

Former lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie brushed off what he characterized as a partisan smear Sunday, saying he's been shot at by "real bullets" and can withstand the scrutiny that comes with working for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

The 35-year Canadian Forces veteran posted the comments online the same day the Defence Minister said he would ask his department to explain how it approved in-city moving expenses of more than $72,000 for Leslie — a Rob Nicholson said appeared "grossly excessive."

"In the meantime, it is important for Andrew Leslie to explain why he believes this is a reasonable expense for hard working Canadians to absorb," Nicholson said in a statement. "This is a matter of judgment and the responsible use of taxpayers dollars."

Leslie told CTV News, which aired the story Saturday based on a government document, that he did not break any rules and that most of the moving expenses went to real estate fees.

CTV did not say how it obtained the document, but Nicholson's office said Sunday it was released under the Access to Information Act.

Leslie did not explain in his statement how he concluded the Tories were behind the story.

It aired just a week before Leslie, touted as a candidate in the next federal election, is to address a Liberal convention in Montreal.

Leslie said Sunday that like all Canadian Forces personnel who retire after 20 or more years of service, he was offered and accepted a standard benefit that allows veterans a final move to anywhere in Canada.

In Leslie's case, he and his family decided to move from their Ottawa house to a smaller one nearby.

"After moving homes 18 times in the service of my country, I was glad to make a new house in Ottawa our new, permanent home," he said in the statement.

"Each step of the process is overseen by a third-party supplier, and independent approvals for every expenditure are required, as directed by the Treasury Board of Canada. Costs are paid directly to the suppliers (real estate agents, movers etc.) by the Department of National Defence."

Leslie said that after retiring, he joined the federal Liberal Party because he felt "it was time for a change in how politics is conducted" in Canada.

"I saw how the Conservative Party often attacks those people that might dare to disagree with them," adding all too often the tactic is to make the issue personal, not about differences in policy or vision.

Now that he has joined Trudeau's team as a senior adviser on defence and foreign policy, the Conservatives have made him the target of a just such a personal attack, Leslie said.

"I can take it. I have been shot at by real bullets. What is disappointing is that this particular attack may raise questions over a military retirement benefit and I do not think veterans deserve to have another measure called into question."

— With a file from Joan Bryden.

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

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