Canada’s spending watchdog is probing the controversial military relocation program that landed a former general-turned-Liberal Party adviser in hot water.
Andrew Leslie, now an adviser to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, claimed $72,000 in expenses for a move within Ottawa, from one home to another, shortly after he retired from the Canadian military. He was taking advantage of a Department of National Defence program that allows members of the Canadian Forces who have served for more than 20 years to expense one final move after they retire.
The Conservative government was quick to pounce on the Leslie claim when news of it broke last weekend. Tory defence minister Rob Nicholson said the expense claim appeared to be “grossly excessive” and announced Ottawa would examine the matter.
It turns out the Office of the Auditor-General is already examining the Canadian Forces Integrated Relocation Program as part of a review of government-wide moving services that is being released in both a spring 2014 report and later a fall 2014 report.
Ghislain Desjardins, a spokesman for the Auditor-General, said the audit is focusing on the Integrated Relocation Program contract, awarded in 2009 to Brookfield Global Relocation Services. He couldn’t say when the audit began but noted it usually takes about 18 months to complete a performance audit. This contract has come under criticism by opposition MPs.
“As part of our planning process, we try to focus in on areas of higher risk and interest to Parliament and Canadians. This was one such area,” Mr. Desjardins said.
The Auditor-General's office looked into the program in 2006.
Mr. Leslie will be in the public spotlight Friday when he speaks at the Liberal Party’s convention in Montreal.
The former top soldier has defended the claim saying in a statement earlier this week that he was offered and accepted a standard benefit available to Forces personnel retiring after 20 or more years of service. He said his family “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.”
Mr. Leslie, who retired as a Lieutenant-General, once led Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
The RCMP has stricter controls on moves. Its policy stipulates that a retiring member must move at least 40 kilometres away to be eligible for reimbursement of moving expenses. An exception is made for former members who were previously living in government-provided accommodation.