Re­think sol­dier trans­fers, DND told

Numer­ous new post­ings each year cost tax­pay­ers, cause hard­ships, om­buds­man says

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - KATHRYN MAY

Canada’s mil­i­tary om­buds­man is call­ing for the De­part­ment of Na­tional De­fence to re-ex­am­ine its long-stand­ing prac­tice of send­ing thou­sands of mil­i­tary per­son­nel to new post­ings ev­ery year, in­clud­ing the re­lo­ca­tion poli­cies to man­age those moves.

Pierre Daigle said the mil­i­tary should re­think how of­ten it needs to trans­fer sol­diers and up­root their fam­i­lies as part of its “op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments.” He said mov­ing 20 per cent of the forces ev­ery year is ex­pen­sive for tax­pay­ers and can im­pose ma­jor per­sonal and fi­nan­cial hard­ships on mil­i­tary fam­i­lies.

“Why do we move peo­ple so much and how many times do we have to move?” said Daigle in an in­ter­view. “Yes, they need op­er­a­tional ca­pac­ity and peo­ple have to be moved, but when they are moved for op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments, it is not their choice where they have to go so to they shouldn’t be paying for it and that’s where we see the un­fair­ness that needs to be ad­dressed.”

Daigle’s call comes at a time when his of­fice and the de­part­ment are fac­ing a ris­ing num­ber of com­plaints are about the cost of trans­fers on fam­i­lies. He has been vis­it­ing bases across the coun­try and said the fi­nan­cial bur­den of mov­ing is a big com­plaint.

Some fam­i­lies are los­ing money be­cause of the cool­ing of the hous­ing mar­ket or they are sell­ing into a de­pressed lo­cal mar­ket. Some say the prob­lems are caused by un­clear poli­cies and the government be­com­ing more rigid and in­flex­i­ble in the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of poli­cies when it comes to re­im­burs­ing ex­penses and other costs of trans­fers.

Th­ese is­sues will be the cen­tre­piece of Daigle’s ma­jor study into the fam­ily life of Canada’s mil­i­tary.

Trans­fers are one of the big­gest stresses on fam­i­lies which can face moves half a dozen times or more over the course of a mil­i­tary ca­reer. The study will in­clude a re­view of some of the poli­cies un­der the Cana­dian Forces In­te­grated Re­lo­ca­tion Pro­gram (IRP).

The land­mark study into the “Qual­ity of Life” in the mil­i­tary was done by the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Na­tional De­fence and Veter­ans Af­fairs (SCONDVA) in 1999. That report had 88 sweep­ing rec­om­men­da­tions, many aimed at im­prov­ing pay and ben­e­fits, which set the stan­dard for years.

That report also led to the cre­ation of the In­te­grated Re­lo­ca­tion Pro­gram (IRP) in 1999 to en­sure mil­i­tary and other pub­lic ser­vants are moved with min­i­mal dis­rup­tion to their lives. The pro­gram has been tweaked over the years but the over­all ap­proach has re­mained un­changed.

Re­lo­cat­ing fed­eral em­ploy­ees costs the government an es­ti­mated $500 mil­lion a year — on top of what it pays mov­ing com­pa­nies to move fur­ni­ture and house­hold pos­ses­sions. The government re­lo­cates about 18,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees a year and mil­i­tary moves ac­count for about 85 per cent of those moves. The cost of the av­er­age move ranges be­tween $20,000 for a ten­ant and $35,000 for a home­owner.

The IRP con­tract has been dogged by con­tro­versy since the 2002 con­tract went off the rails. The 2004 con­tract is now at the cen­tre of a $62-mil­lion law­suit.

DND has a back­log of about 1,500 com­plaints about ben­e­fits and an­other 212 com­plaints in the queue for the mil­i­tary’s griev­ance process. Most of the griev­ances are over mov­ing.

Daigle said the big­gest com­plaints are over the IRP’s Door-to-Door and Home Eq­uity As­sis­tance poli­cies. But he said mil­i­tary per­son­nel are also feel­ing the eco­nomic pinch of ris­ing rents for at pri­vate mil­i­tary quar­ters.

Some of the ex­penses that used to be al­lowed for mil­i­tary per­son­nel sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies when on “im­posed re­stric­tion” are be­ing cut back. Most re­cently, the de­part­ment an­nounced that it will no longer be pick­ing up the cost of mort­gage in­surance, or penal­ties to break a mort­gage for homeowners be­ing trans­ferred. This is partly to en­cour­age the use of por­ta­ble mort­gages.

Daigle ap­pealed to the Chief of De­fence Staff Tom Law­son to ask Trea­sury Board to re­view the con­tro­ver- sial home eq­uity as­sis­tance pol­icy, which has left mil­i­tary fam­i­lies swal­low­ing big losses on the sale of their homes when be­ing trans­ferred. The Cana­dian Forces Griev­ance Board re­cently made the same rec­om­men­da­tion.

The pro­gram, aimed at pro­tect­ing mil­i­tary from los­ing money on their homes when re­lo­cat­ing, will cover 80 per cent of all losses to a max­i­mum of $15,000. It will, how­ever, cover 100 per cent of losses if the home is lo­cated in a “de­pressed” mar­ket. The prob­lem is Trea­sury Board de­ter­mines what is a de­pressed mar­ket, and mil­i­tary per­son­nel have to ar­gue their case.

The dis­pute is over the def­i­ni­tions of “de­pressed” and “com­mu­nity.” The pol­icy says a com­mu­nity where the hous­ing mar­ket dropped more than 20 per cent is de­pressed. Trea­sury Board doc­u­ments show 146 fam­i­lies have ap­plied for the full com­pen­sa­tion and all were de­nied. Trea­sury Board doesn’t con­sider any mar­ket in Canada “de­pressed.”

Yet Daigle said peo­ple have faced eq­uity losses on their home up to $80,000. A big con­cern is that Trea­sury Board is us­ing Statis­tics Canada’s “cen­sus met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas” to de­fine a com­mu­nity, rather than mar­kets in smaller towns and vil­lages, when de­ter­min­ing a de­pressed mar­ket.

The Chief of De­fence Staff has sup­ported the griev­ances of some sol­diers who have been af­fected by this tug of war with Trea­sury Board over the def­i­ni­tion of de­pressed mar­ket.

A big flaw in the griev­ance process, how­ever, is that the Chief of De­fence Staff has no fi­nan­cial author­ity to set­tle fi­nan­cial claims even for ex­cep­tional cases. The CDS’s lack of fi­nan­cial author­ity has been flagged as an is­sue since a 2003 report on mil­i­tary jus­tice by An­to­nio Lamer, former chief jus­tice of the Supreme Court and later by a Se­nate com­mit­tee. The is­sue is cur­rently be­ing as­sessed.

In an email, DND of­fi­cials say fi­nan­cial losses and gains are risks mil­i­tary per­son­nel face when they move to bases in di­verse mar­kets and the home eq­uity pro­gram is aimed at help­ing to off­set losses.

“Ul­ti­mately CAF mem­bers make a per­sonal de­ci­sion on where they will re­side within the area they are posted to and whether they will rent or in­vest in the real es­tate mar­ket,” the de­part­ment said in an email.

Daigle’s fam­ily report, ex­pected in sum­mer, will ex­am­ine all as­pects of up­root­ing fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion, health care, em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and ob­sta­cles for mil­i­tary spouses.

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