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Gerald Butts and Katie Telford (Deborah Baic, Sean Kilpatric/The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Pres)
Gerald Butts and Katie Telford (Deborah Baic, Sean Kilpatric/The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Pres)

Jeffrey Cowan

Upset about how much Telford and Butts spent on moving? Welcome to Toronto Add to ...

Jeffrey Cowan is a Toronto-based real estate lawyer

There have been a lot of cries of ignominy across the country because of Liberal staffers Katie Telford and Gerald Butts, who have claimed relocation costs. The reality is that moving in and out of our largest city is not an inexpensive proposition and the numbers tell the story.

If you were to leave Toronto and move to Ottawa and purchase a home for your family, typically the land transfer tax, real estate commission, physical moving costs and additional hard costs incurred in the move would be paid by the employer who relocated you. The average price of a home in Ottawa in August, 2016, was $389,000, which would command a land transfer cost of $4,310 in Ontario. This may seem extremely high to someone in another province – the land transfer tax would be approximately $130 in Alberta – but it is the tax payable in Ontario.

The largest cost by far is the real estate commission on the sale of your present home in Toronto. The average cost of a detached home in Toronto is $1.2-million, which would command a typical real estate commission of $67,800. Depending on the home, moving costs could easily top $15,000. Last but not least are legal fees, mortgage prepayment penalties and title insurance for the new property: again, several thousand dollars.

The disparity in costs between cities is at the crux of this perceived issue. There is a certain degree of disbelief among those who live in regions where you can purchase new homes and transfer properties at relatively low costs when they hear the figures that Ms. Telford and Mr. Butts have broken down.

The Treasury Board has set out the guidelines for relocation reimbursement of federal employees. These policies have been in place for several decades. To further advance a level of impartial management to this process, eligible expenses are managed by a third party, in this case, Brookfield Global Integration Services. In Canada, we have a federal government integrated relocation program that assists government employees, Canadian Forces personnel and Royal Canadian Mounted Police with relocation to new work locations.

These costs are regularly and routinely covered for the armed services, police employees and civil servants who transfer between cities at the behest of their superiors. Why wouldn’t we cover the costs of staff members of our government? Just because these are political appointments doesn’t negate the expenses incurred to take up a new job with a new employer in a new city.

Are those disputing these costs suggesting that our Prime Minister should be limited in the costs he can reimburse his senior staff when they move to Ottawa to serve the government and our leader? Those incredulous at the sums claimed by these two individuals (and probably several other staff) would be astonished at the relocation costs absorbed by companies in the private sector.

How can our leadership attract highly qualified professionals to assist the government if they can’t reimburse them with appropriate transfer payments?

Instead of wasting three entire days of our already limited parliamentary session engulfed in the details of relocation costs for a relatively small number of Liberal staffers, perhaps our esteemed opposition can get on with the business of providing useful and constructive feedback on more pressing government matters: the economy, social justice, equality and plain old good government.

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