Former general says attacks over moving expenses a 'smear campaign'
Former top-ranking Canadian general Andrew Leslie says his connection to the Liberal party is what’s prompting a smear campaign over $72,000 in expenses he claimed for a move from his Ottawa home to another residence in the city shortly after he retired.
Meanwhile, the minister of national defence said Sunday the government intends to examine the costs that appear to be “grossly excessive” and questioned Leslie’s judgement for billing taxpayers.
Documents obtained by CTV News on Saturday revealed that Leslie, who once led Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, claimed $72,225.86 in moving expenses, including real estate fees, for a move within Ottawa in 2012.
Leslie has already made clear his intention to run for the Liberal party in 2015 and is serving as a policy advisor to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
Leslie retired from the military in 2011, but told CTV News on Sunday that members of the Canadian Forces who have served for more than 20 years are entitled to expense one last move after they retire. The benefits are administered through the Canadian Forces Integrated Relocation Program.
Leslie said the program has paid for the moves of thousands of veterans regardless of their ranks.
“We were always comforted by the knowledge that when it came time to hang up my spurs, I could go somewhere exactly where we wanted to go, where we wanted to retire to, where we essentially wanted to settle down for the rest of our lives,” he said.
“And the current policy, a Conservative-managed policy, is that there is no differentiation between rank, and you can either move next door or you can move to the other side of the country.”
The house Leslie moved to is in an upscale neighbourhood in the nation's capital and just a four-minute drive from his former residence, a home that property records show sold for more than a million dollars.
Nicholson asking for an investigation
Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson, whose own department picked up the bill for Leslie’s move, told CTV News in a statement on Sunday that he will be asking the Department of National Defence to examine “how an in-city move could possibly total over $72,000.”
“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. “This is a matter of judgment and the responsible use of taxpayers dollars."
Leslie made headlines in 2011 when he told the Harper government in a landmark report that the Department of National Defence needed to take an axe to its bloated headquarters in order to meet future obligations.
Leslie says he believes the questions surrounding his expenses are simply a Conservative party smear campaign against him.
“They (the Conservatives) have developed a technique for attacking those who may not agree with them,” Leslie said. “It’s time to reintroduce a more civilized discourse that doesn’t rely on personal attacks that intimate or deter those from actually joining or articulating points of view that may not mesh with the Conservative vision.”
Government officials said nobody was available to comment on Leslie’s smear campaign claims.
Leslie maintains that the majority of the costs of the move were from real estate fees. He said, however, that he only “roughly” knew the costs of his move before CTV News ran the initial story Saturday night.
He said that it was the DND that paid third-party suppliers, such as movers and real-estate agents.
Liberal MP Marc Garneau, a former Canadian astronaut who served in the Armed Forces, defended Leslie on Sunday, saying the former general had complete authorization to file the expenses.
“For (Minister) Rob Nicholson to come out and say this seems ‘grossly excessive,’ when his own department approved it, is totally partisan, and shows the Conservative party of this country doesn’t care about the brave men and women of the armed forces of Canada,” Garneau said.
Charlie Angus, the ethics critic for the Opposition NDP, questioned the cost of the move.
“I’m very surprised that we would have a situation where a move for a general from one house to another in the city of Ottawa would cost us $72,000 dollars,” he said. “It’s a question of judgement. It’s a question of not hitting up the taxpayer for every possible dime.”
But Angus also said he believes Nicholson’s criticism of Leslie was politically motivated, and criticized the Conservative government’s own handling of veteran’s issue, including the recent closure or eight Veterans Affairs offices.
“This is a defence minister who has badly mishandled the (Defence) file, shown very poor respect towards frontline vets, has nickel and dimed the men and woman in uniform who have come back and have legitimate rights to pensions and medical and social support,” he said. “The fact that he (Nicholson) is now going to rail one of the higher ups for this outrageous bill, to me, it’s more political posturing. I don’t think this government understands the disconnect between them and ordinary Canadians”