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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Entitlements and Ottawa go together like pork and barrel

The recent dustup in the media over retired general Andrew Leslie’s $72,000 expense claim for a move from his Ottawa home to another residence in the same city shortly after he retired reminds me of the apparent sense of entitlement that has been all too common in Ottawa for decades, perhaps centuries.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has defended the general on the grounds he is the target of a “pure partisan” attack.

Well, I suppose he has been a target of a partisan attack. He has, after all, made public the fact that he’s now on Trudeau’s Liberal team as a policy advisor and potential candidate. So, given the tone-deaf nature of his $72,225.86 expense claim, it would have been very strange indeed had he not been singled out for criticism by the Tories.

To be sure, the general, as I understand it, has broken no laws or any DND rules or regulations in making his claim. One would expect, however, that a mature adult would question the probity of charging taxpayers 150 per cent of the $48,250 the average Canadian worker makes in an entire year to move from one house to another within the same city.

In other words, the general deserves to be criticized for, at least, his lack of judgement. Furthermore, we can be sure that, had retired general Leslie decided to be PM Stephen Harper’s policy advisor, we would now be talking about the pure partisan attacks launched by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his team. So, as I see it, criticism of a partisan nature is reasonable to expect under the circumstances.

The overall moving policy for military personnel seems fair enough. And most examples I’ve read about seem substantiated, though, I did note CTV News staff’s comment that:

The defence department was unable to explain why some generals living alone on Afghan bases were able to claim hefty moving expenses.”

None of the other claims shown so far in the media come even close to Andrew Leslie’s—all are tens of thousands of dollars less, even those moving other retired generals halfway round the world.

Many Ottawa bureaucrats and politicians—remember the senate spending scandal—do seem to have an unreasonable/unhealthy sense of entitlement, especially when it comes to taxpayers’ money and their perks. Here’s an extract from a 2011 report in the National Post:

Parliamentary officials revealed this week that it cost $500,000 last year to shuttle MPs an extra few hundred metres, but the full cost of Parliament Hill’s miniature shuttle bus network remains a closely guarded secret.”

How many private sector employers do you think offer door-to-door shuttle service between buildings within easy walking distance? The Post reported:

… [parliamentarians have] a fleet of green buses to shuttle around an area the size of four city blocks. At average adult walking speeds, even the longest shuttle bus commute takes about 20 minutes by foot.”

So it’s not news that, in our nation’s capital, everyone who is connected with the government, whether through employment or election, seems to believe “I’m entitled to my entitlements,” as former Liberal cabinet minister and former CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint,  David Dingwall, so succinctly put it in 2005.

Dingwall was explaining to a parliamentary committee why he felt he should receive a hefty severance package after the voluntary resignation from a six-figure salary as head of the Canadian Mint. His departure came after revelations of questionable expense claims surfaced.

No kidding, eh? You couldn’t make this stuff up.

6 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. We have included your post in our 'Around the Blogs' section at Looniepolitics.com.
    Dale Smith wrote a somewhat opposing article at http://looniepolitics.com/sackcloth-ashes-everyone/

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  2. Probably few people will agree with me on this: raise salaries but remove most if not all perks, and some of the abuses may be eliminated. I have yet to hear a reasonable argument for MPs or other government officials being able to claim per diems for lunches and living quarters. Would those people not have to pay for their food & dwelling if they were otherwise employed?

    Also, clarifying or updating some of the so-called rules might also help. General Leslie probably did not break any rules, except that of common sense AND that of optics. How does it look to the general public that after selling a house which apparently sold for $1 million he expects taxpayers to pick up the moving expense? I'm sure the intention of the regulation was to help military personnel relocate back to their home town after serving in a different city or country, which is as it should be. But to relocate a few blocks away at such a high cost? The optics are terrible.

    Finally, the media, as usual, is portraying this disclosure as a Conservative smear, whereas it was touted by CTV as an "exclusive report" -- much like the disclosures about the now infamous quartet of senators. I don't recall any political party being singled out as the source of the "smear".

    Unfortunately, the impression that it was a Conservative smear has been reinforced by Minister Nicholson's knee-jerk reaction. Rather than personalizing his comment by saying the moving claim showed poor judgment on General Leslie's part, the minister should have simply stated that the policy should perhaps be reviewed.
    -- Gabby in QC

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    Replies
    1. I agree that government employees should receive less perks and that their wage packets should be adjusted to include all remuneration, except, perhaps, health benefits and pension contributions. This would make it much easier for citizens to assess their cost.

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  3. As posted yesterday, the next General on the list charged $60,000 for moving expenses,and there were several in the $30-$40K range.

    Most of the cost associated with this "move" has nothing to do with the actual move, it's the Real Estate commissions, which run about 6% on average in the Ottawa area. I believe the maximum commission that can be charged in Ontario is 7%. In Leslie's upscale neighborhood, houses apparently sell in the million dollar range,so it's not hard to see why the cost of relocating Leslie was so high.

    General Leslie did nothing illegal, but as you say, pork barreling is a way of life in Ottawa,and in every Provincial capitol as well. The elites believe they are entitled,and they take advantage of every loophole available.

    An enterprising investigative journalist could pen a best-seller if he was to snoop into the golden handshakes and other payouts given to the in-crowd,from Radwanski to Leslie.

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  4. Peter McKay and Nicholson having been running DND for 8 years. Clearly they approved of this expenditure. All expenditures in DND require ministerial or Treasury Board approval.

    If this occured under a Liberal cabinet minister you would be crying about government waste. Where is your outrage for your team? Why so forgiving?

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    Replies
    1. Your words Anon: "Peter McKay and Nicholson having been running DND for 8 years. Clearly they approved of this expenditure. All expenditures in DND require ministerial or Treasury Board approval."

      Do you really believe McKay and Nicholson personally approve "All expenditures in DND?" Rather than criticize the civil servant who approved/processed the claim, which was within the rules, I chose to criticize everyone involved when I wrote, "…in our nation’s capital, everyone who is connected with the government, whether through employment or election, seems to believe “I’m entitled to my entitlements.”

      If you browse through my many blog posts you'll see that I do criticize conservative governments from time to time. This time my criticism was even broader.

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