Conservatives to review policy of paying for same-city military moves

Video: Documents obtained by Global News indicate the government is paying generous amounts for retired Canadian generals to move, with some claiming tens of thousands of dollars to move just a few blocks away. Jacques Bourbeau reports.

OTTAWA – The Conservative government is reviewing its pricey policy of paying to move retired military members to new houses within the same city, as documents released to Global News through Access to Information show these moves are costing National Defence hundreds of thousands of dollars.

National Defence has paid nearly $600,000 to move Generals, many of them retired, within the same city or just outside the city limits over the past five years, according to the documents.

The most costly of those moves was expensed by Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Andrew Leslie who moved from one house in an upscale Ottawa neighbourhood to another just a four-minute drive away – a move that cost taxpayers $72,000. Leslie is now an advisor to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

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“The policy was never intended to have taxpayers pay $72,000 for generals to move between mansions within the same city,” said Defence Minister Rob Nicholson. “Just like his Liberal friends, Andrew Leslie claims he is ‘entitled to his entitlements.’ That’s is why I have asked my department to review the policy to ensure the responsible use of taxpayers dollars.”

But Leslie’s not alone. Thirteen generals had intra-city moves. Another eight moved within 100 kilometres of their old house.

UPDATE: The five costliest in-city or same-city moves following Leslie

MGen Day (Ottawa to Ottawa) $59,627.82

RAdm Greenwood (Victoria to Victoria) $43,328.24

BGen Rochette (Ottawa to Ottawa) $40,012.75

LGen Lucas (Ottawa to Ottawa) $38,970.68

BGen Mclean (Ottawa to Greely) $35,164.34

(Click here for a full list of same-city moves made by generals)

As part of the deal for serving their country, all military members can expense one final move post-retirement. The policy is meant to ensure members can choose their final home after being at the whim of the department for decades. All costs associated with the move – including the cost of moving possessions, legal fees and real estate commissions – are covered by the public purse.

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In an email to Global News, Leslie defended the policy, saying it fairly compensates uniformed members for many moves over the course of their service.

“No restrictions, no quibbling,” he wrote. “You can move to Victoria, or you can move next door.”

But some question this interpretation of the policy.

Military journalist Scott Taylor said the original intent of the policy is to relocate soldiers who end up posted to a place they don’t want to retire, but some are exploiting a loophole.

“The rationale is that they want to be in the city of their choosing for their retirement. Moving within that city makes no sense. That was never the spirit of that entitlement,” Taylor said, adding that it is probably time for a systemic review.

Gregory Thomas of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said the moves suggest generals believe they are entitled to their entitlements.

“Well it doesn’t say a lot for the Generals that they are going to whack the taxpayers to move from one part of Ottawa to the other after they leave the forces,” he said.

Global News requested and received details of the moving expenses of general staff through Access to Information laws. Before Global News published the information, at least part of it was leaked to CTV who published the details of Leslie’s move.

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Nicholson immediately responded demanding an explanation from Leslie for the expenses – expenses that were approved by Nicholson’s own department.

“Expense claims for Liberal Defence Advisor Andrew Leslie’s in-city move appear grossly excessive. As such, I will be asking the Department of National Defence to examine how an in-city move could possibly total over $72,000,” Nicholson said in a statement. “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.”

On Monday, Nicholson’s office said the review of Leslie’s expenses would cover all moves within the same city.

Leslie claims the Conservatives are launching a “personal attack” that stems from his recent decision to join the Liberal advisory team.

“I can take it. I have been shot at by real bullets,” Leslie wrote on his Facebook page this weekend. “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 was not available for an interview on Monday, but in an email to Global News said he and his family moved 18 times and he bought the [first] house in Ottawa on a very short trip without the input of his wife.
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“We decided to retire in Ottawa and not move out of the city. My wife found and chose the perfect house (smaller, and note who got the final say), fixed it up and here we are,” he wrote.

Leslie said he knew how much the real estate and legal fees cost, which was the bulk of the bill, but did not know the full cost of his 2013 move.

Nicholson disputes how much Leslie knew about the expenses saying that the policy requires members to submit their fees and commission bill for reimbursement.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau came swiftly to Leslie’s defence, saying the program was meant as a “solemn undertaking” to allow members to pick their final home, regardless of location.

“If the government wants to review it, that is their choice, but there is no question in my mind that the Conservatives are trying to smear the reputation of an honourable and very respected Canadian who has served his country for 35 years,” Garneau said.

Read: The full list of moves by generals from 2008 to 2013