More questions about military moving expenses
The Canadian PressMonday, February 17, 2014
OTTAWA - National Defence paid nearly $40,000 to move a disgraced general to the United Arab Emirates after he was court-martialled for having sex with a subordinate and trying to cover it up, expense records for the military's top brass show.
The revelation about former brigadier-general Dan Menard is in the same set of records that show retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie was allowed to claim more than $72,000 for a move within Ottawa after he left the military.
Menard, who was relieved in 2010 as combat commander in Kandahar, had already resigned from the military when he pleaded guilty in 2011 to having improper relations with a corporal under his command, and trying to impede an investigation into their affair.
His name recently reappeared in the headlines after Menard was detained in Afghanistan in his current role as an executive for a private security company.
The Department of National Defence allows a retiring member of the Canadian Forces up to two years to claim a final relocation expense, which is then approved and audited. It also pays the full relocation costs for serving members.
The policy is under scrutiny following revelations about how much it cost to relocate Leslie — a high-profile adviser to the Liberals on defence and foreign policy who is widely expected to run in the next federal election — from his east Ottawa home to a new house just minutes away.
But the full list of expenses, which outlines the moving costs paid to senior military leaders between 2008 and 2013, raises questions that go well beyond Menard and Leslie.
It shows at least three other officers billed taxpayers in 2010 a total of $47,495 for moves between Afghanistan and Ottawa, Halifax and Kingston, Ont.
The members were deployed as part of the Canadian mission; it's unclear what the expenses entailed. The largest of those three claims totalled almost $38,000.
Leslie, in defending his expenses on the weekend, said he was entitled to make the claim. The Liberals described the release of the information as a political smear by Conservatives eager to dent Leslie's political ambitions.
But the list raises uncomfortable questions for the Harper government about overall expense oversight in the military at a time when $2.1 billion has been slashed from the defence budget, and Conservatives are just getting back on their feet from the political drubbing of the Senate expense scandal.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson has ordered an investigation into how Leslie's in-city claim could have been so high.
Asked whether the other expenses would be investigated, a spokeswoman for the minister's office would only say the policy is being reviewed and didn't spell what action might be taken in the other cases.
In a written statement, Nicholson went on the offensive again Monday against Leslie, calling his costs "grossly excessive" and saying the policy was never meant for "generals to move between mansions within the same city."
Nicholson was silent, however, on five other moves within Ottawa involving flag officers, including the $59,600 spent to relocate the still-serving Maj.-Gen. Mike Day in 2013.
Leslie's total expenses are, by far, the highest on the list.
"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," Leslie said in a statement on his website.
The Liberals were quick to use the attack to help fill their own war chest, appealing for donations late Monday in an email blast to supporters.
"The Harper campaign may be using the $18 million they raised last year to take aim at the brave men and women in uniform who serve our country so honourably," the note read.
"We're using your donations to build an economic vision that benefits all Canadians -- and to share it Canada-wide."
NDP defence critic Jack Harris said Leslie "may have followed all the rules except that of common sense."
The expenses smack of entitlement at time when others in uniform are struggling to make ends meet, said Harris, who pointed to the debate about reimbursing members of the military for lost home equity.
Last year, it was revealed 146 military families have been out tens of thousands of dollars each between 2007 and 2010. They were rejected for full compensation of their losses when they were forced to sell their homes in depressed markets because they were being transferred.
Maj. Marcus Brauer spearheaded that fight.
"If DND is reviewing the policy Andrew Leslie took advantage of, they should review the application of the Home Equity Assistance program which caused Brauer's family to lose over $75,000 when he was forced to move from Alberta to Halifax and made bankrupt," said Harris.
The military has encouraged members of the Forces to live off base since the 1990s and to buy property and build equity for their retirement. But forced transfers, especially since the economic downturn in 2008, have eroded — and in some cases destroyed — those nest eggs.
Since the early 1990s, compensation has been paid when the home is sold in a depressed housing market where prices have dropped by 20 per cent.
But National Defence and the federal Treasury Board are at odds over how they define certain housing market boundaries. That dispute has led to an increasing number of applications being rejected.
Military officials and the Canadian Forces ombudsman have been arguing since 2009, without success, for the policy to be rewritten.