Demands for Accountability are Misdirected in the General Leslie Affair
My post about the cognitive dissonance resonating within many conservatives seems to have struck a chord – or at least, a discord.
In particular, it was the current brouhaha over the $72,000 incurred by General Leslie for relocating expenses when he retired and sold one house to move within the same city to another. My issue yesterday was not that the program isn’t flawed – it most definitely is. My issue was with the way the Harper government is handling the situation.
Let’s back it up for a moment.
The program was put in place by the Chretien Liberals in 1999. It was well intentioned in that it recognized that military personnel and their families are moved all over creation necessitating that they sell their homes, sometimes at a loss. The program has provision to cover those losses which is only fair seeing as it is the government and not the individual that decides when the individual moves.
It was also decided to include a provision paying for a final relocation upon retirement for service personnel with twenty years or more active service. Again, the thinking was that the individual may be stationed somewhere other than where they want to live after retirement and the government accepted responsibility to cover the cost of relocating the retiree and his/her family to their choice destination.
The problem was that the program allowed for costs related to relocation within the same city. Initially, it had to be at least 45 kms away from the individual’s current residence but that provision was allowed to lapse into obscurity.
The way the program works is quite simple. DND bureaucrats and/or their designates call tenders, negotiate the supplier contracts (real estate, lawyers, moving companies etc.), approve the expense and pay the bills directly to the supplier according to the terms of the contract that they negotiated. Retiring military personnel do not – let me repeat that – do not make the decisions and then submit an expense claim to the government.
In 2006, the Auditor General highlighted specific issues with the program including the costs associated with relocation with the same city. The Harper government did not address the issue. Since 2009, the Defense Ombudsman has repeatedly called for changes to the program but again, the Harper government ignored the issue.
According to the Defense Minister’s parliamentary secretary in an interview this morning, the only reason the government is now reviewing the program is because it hit the media. In fact, he went so far as to state that the government wouldn’t have been aware of the problem without the media having filed an Access to Information request and then writing a story about General Leslie’s relocation costs.
Think about that for a moment – especially if you claim to be a staunch supporter of the Harper government.
This program is expensive. It isn’t a couple of bucks tossed here and there and yet, here is the parliamentary secretary for the Minister of Defense stating that neither he nor the minister was aware of the issue until it hit the media. Apparently they don’t read reports from the AG or the Ombudsman related to programs for which the minister is responsible.
Once it hit the fan, there was no ministerial accountability, no admission of having slipped up. Instead, it was all attack against one retiring general; a man who served this country in war with distinction. It hardly seems a fitting way to show him our respect but then – he is a Liberal after all so screw him.
And that is precisely the issue for me.
This program should have been revised years ago by the Harper government but it wasn’t. When it all hit the media fan, the Harper government should have stepped up, accepted responsibility and held itself accountable for the situation and for fixing it. That is what real conservatives do.
Instead, they do what they always do. They attacked someone and tried to put the blame on that individual and it has worked with the hard-core right. General Leslie is a crook and the Harper government is the Communion of Saints.
That’s the kind of lack of ethics and principle I expect from Liberals and their supporters – not from conservatives. We’re supposed to be the good guys, the guys that are better than all that.
The hard right is all over the general with accusations and criticism but quite frankly, blaming him for the Harper government’s failure on this file is pretty much the same thing as blaming a legal and responsible gun owner for the Liberal’s ridiculous gun registry or a person needing a hip replacement for the mess our health care system is currently in thanks to government and political mismanagement.
Some of the comments I’ve received prove that you can fool some people all of the time regardless of whether or not they are Liberal or Conservative and that the principles and votes of too many conservatives can simply be bought for a promised tax cut in much the same way that the principles and votes of some Liberals can be bought for a new entitlement.
I think they will discover that they sell themselves and their principles very cheaply indeed.
Update: It has been brought to my attention that there are two errors in my description of how the relocation program works. I accept responsibility for that. My research was rushed and sloppy. I have not, however, changed what was written because the errors are reasonably minor and do not affect the fundamental issue presented in the post. Corrections to my description of the program will be found below in the comments submitted by readers and I thank them for taking the time to provide them.
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