Justin Trudeau has attracted a high-profile retired general to bulk up his military and foreign-affairs credentials, boosting his ability to attack the Conservatives on what is considered to be one of their strong suits.
The Liberal Leader has brought in retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie – best known for advocating massive cuts at National Defence headquarters in 2011 – as the co-chair of a new group of advisers on international affairs. Mr. Leslie, who left the Canadian Forces in 2011, is expected to run in the next election in the Ottawa area, where he would be considered a star candidate for the Trudeau team.
Mr. Leslie’s arrival came one day after Mr. Trudeau unveiled a new team of economic advisers, co-chaired by his candidate in the coming Toronto Centre by-election, ex-journalist Chrystia Freeland.
Mr. Leslie, 55, had harsh words for the state of the Canadian Forces and Canada’s international reputation under the current Conservative government. He served as head of land forces from 2006 to 2010, and then became the chief of transformation, working on a report that called for thousands of job cuts in Ottawa in order to provide for “more teeth, less tail.”
Mr. Leslie acknowledged the Canadian Forces were “particularly hard hit” by Liberal cutbacks in the 1990s, but said he is now focused on the current situation.
“I’m getting very concerned about what is happening to the troops,” Mr. Leslie said in an interview on Tuesday. “Training budgets are being reduced, teeth is being reduced, equipment is not being delivered in a timely fashion, and the overhead has hardly been reduced and yet the front-line troops continue to diminish.”
He also showcased his support for the United Nations, suggesting Canada has lost some of its shine in international circles on many of the key issues that are facing the world.
“Over the recent couple of years, Canada has not lost its ways, but there has been a drift and that clear sense of priorities is not apparent,” said Mr. Leslie, who served across the world with the Canadian Forces, including in Afghanistan.
Mr. Leslie, who has been acting as a consultant since his retirement, said he decided in the summer of 2012 that he wanted to return to public life. He comes from a lineage of high-ranking military men and Liberal supporters, including two grandfathers who were defence ministers.
Mr. Leslie said that after a series of consultations with officials of various stripes, he decided to join Mr. Trudeau’s team this year. He said he was particularly impressed by the Liberal Leader’s denunciation of the Parti Québécois’s charter of values in recent weeks.
“Justin did not wait for an opinion poll,” Mr. Leslie said. “That’s when I said, ‘I’m in.’ ”
The pair first met in the 1980s, when Mr. Leslie’s father, Teddy, ran for the Liberal Party. Their paths crossed again in the late 2000s when Mr. Trudeau, as a rookie Liberal MP, attended a military boot camp for parliamentarians.
“He was impressive then, quite frankly,” Mr. Leslie said. “This is the guy I’ve chosen to follow in terms of a vision for Canada.”
Mr. Leslie said he will likely run in the next election, although he is now focused on developing the Liberal Party’s foreign affairs and defence policies with his co-chair, Liberal MP Marc Garneau. He said he is acting as a volunteer for the Liberal Party.
“Justin promised me hard work and no pay,” Mr. Leslie said.
The father of three – including a son and a daughter who followed the family tradition of serving in the artillery with the Canadian Forces – said that “after 35 years in uniform, I always felt that I could contribute more in serving the public.”
Speaking alongside Mr. Trudeau in the foyer of the House, Mr. Leslie said he does not see a need to transform the Canadian military into a purely peacekeeping force.
“Sometimes, to keep the peace, you have to fight,” he said, praising the Liberal tradition of being focused on “peacekeeping but prepared to use force.”
Mr. Trudeau said that by bringing in fresh blood to his party, he wants to “form a better government in 2015, not just a different government.”