L’affair Leslie

The Defence Minister versus the retired general

So where are we?

Glen McGregor has the details of Andrew Leslie’s recent real estate history and when Mr. Leslie’s daughter was hired by the real estate company that sold his house. The Star can’t get answers from the Defence Department, but does hear from an anonymous former officer who thinks Mr. Nicholson is handling the matter poorly. Mr. Leslie was not commenting further as of yesterday, but Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner wants to know about severance payments to government staff and Marc Garneau wants to know the origin of the story about Mr. Leslie’s moving expenses. The NDP piles on and raises the case of Major Marcus Brauer, who is currently fighting the government in court over a real-estate loss incurred after a forced transfer.

On Monday, the Canadian Press looked closer at the program that is the basis of the Leslie affair, Global claimed its access to information request was leaked and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson issued a second statement, claiming that Andrew Leslie “falsely asserted that he was unaware of the costs he was billing taxpayers.”

Yesterday, I raised concerns about Andrew Leslie, a senior advisor to Justin Trudeau, for billing taxpayers $72,000 to move four minutes away from his former residence. These expense claims for Liberal Defence Advisor Andrew Leslie’s in-city move appear grossly excessive, demonstrating a clear lack of judgement and Liberal sense of entitlement.

Andrew Leslie and his Liberal colleagues defended the gross entitlement, and most concerning, he falsely asserted that he was unaware of the costs he was billing taxpayers. As all men and women who served will know, the process requires all Canadian Forces applicants to be aware of the policies that govern the Integrated Relocation Program, and to submit their fees and commission bill for reimbursement. In which case, Andrew Leslie was aware of these ridiculously high costs to the taxpayer when he and his Liberal colleagues defended his sense of entitlement.

The policy was never intended to have taxpayers pay $72,000 for generals to move between mansions within the same city. Just like his Liberal friends, Andrew Leslie claims he is “entitled to his entitlements”. That is why I have asked my department to review the policy to ensure the responsible use of taxpayers dollars.

The phrase “appear grossly excessive” repeats what Mr. Nicholson said in his statement on Sunday, but now the minister is apparently confident that the claim demonstrates “a clear lack of judgement and Liberal sense of entitlement.” And the “appear” qualification notwithstanding, the expenses are described as a “gross entitlement” in the next sentence and said without qualification to be “ridiculously high” two sentences after that. Presumably the task of the officials at DND will be to determine the line between “ridiculously high” and “grossly excessive” and then determine whether that line has indeed been crossed.

Global, meanwhile, has now published a tally of generals who’ve had their expenses covered for moves within the same city or to nearby cities—the details of which were put to Conservative MP Scott Armstrong by the CBC’s Evan Solomon in an entertaining interview yesterday (Solomon’s question about whether wealthy MPs should decline their pensions was particularly fun).

So what about those other officers? I asked Mr. Nicholson’s office if the minister was concerned with the expenses covered by those generals. Here is the statement that was sent along by his press secretary.

The policy was never intended to have taxpayers pay over $70,000 for Andrew Leslie or other generals to change houses within the same neighbourhood. That is why the Minister of National Defence has instructed his department to undertake a review of the program immediately to ensure the responsible use of taxpayers dollars.

Here is where things get complicated. What precisely can Mr. Leslie be said to have done wrong here? Is it that his expense claim seems unduly exorbitant? If so, is that simply a product of the house he sold being worth more than the houses sold by other generals? Shall we cap the amount that can be claimed? Shall we exclude real estate commissions from the program? Or is the problem the distance travelled in Mr. Leslie’s move? Would it have been fine for him to claim $72,000 if he’d moved to Victoria? If so, should expenses only be claimed if a certain distance has been exceeded?

We end up with two tracts here: the political debate over which side can make the other look worse and the policy debate over how this program should be designed and what purpose it should serve.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.