CFN – Once again we have a spending scandal occupying the attention of Canadians. This time however, it doesn’t involve our esteemed senators but two former generals, Andrew Leslie who is presently a senior Liberal advisor and Daniel Menard who retired in disgrace from the armed forces. Leslie claimed $72,000 for moving expenses and Menard claimed $40,000.
Both the Senate scandal and this latest one have one thing in common; they involve amounts of money and expenses that everyone can understand. Virtually every adult has had to pay for moving expenses at one time or another and when the dollar amount exceeds the yearly income of many Canadians, they notice.
This is not to say that either general did anything wrong when they submitted their claim for reimbursement. As retired General and Trudeau advisor Andrew Leslie explained, he played by the rules. Yes he did and the rules that are in place allowed him to claim the expenses from his last move. As far as I know, there is no distance stipulation covered by those rules. The same rules applied for General Menard; although asking taxpayers to pay for a move from Canada to the United Arab Emirates after being court-martialed does make them shake their heads.
Like a lot of the Senate rules governing allowable expense claims, the military move policy does need a review, perhaps something as simple as a cap on the maximum allowable claim. Let us not forget though that while these two cases highlight the moves of two very senior former officers, the vast majority of these “last moves” involve the rank and file, the backbone of our armed forces. Let’s not punish them to make an example of two senior officers, one of whom happens to be a Liberal advisor and potential Liberal candidate.
A lot of the online discussion has focused on the political attacks that have come in on Andrew Leslie and the appropriateness of those attacks. Welcome to politics 101. Once you enter the political arena the gloves come off and you become a legitimate political target. What you say, what you have done and yes what you claimed can easily make you a target. Just ask Senators Duffy and Wallin, it doesn’t matter who you were or what you have contributed over the years. Everyone is fair game in the political world.
There are many examples of outstanding citizens who have chosen to enter federal politics from a variety of backgrounds and no party spared them from attacks. Claude Wagner (a former judge), Robert Stanfield (a former premier), Lester Pearson (a distinguished diplomat) and Paul Martin (a distinguished businessman) all had outstanding backgrounds of service to their province or country. More recently we have seen the attacks from the Liberals and NDP on Chuck Strahl, one of the most decent and highly respected individuals to serve any government. Yet their years of distinguished service didn’t spare any of them from political scrutiny and attack, nor will Leslie be spared this time.
There is an expression that “perception is reality in politics” and in the case of the two generals the perception is that their moving expenses are excessive. Fair criticism or not, these expenses don’t look good to the average voter and with politics being the rough sport that it is it’s no surprise that the general’s expense claims have been put under the microscope and become part of the political debate as we run up to the next election. Welcome to Politics 101.
Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails. To sponsor this column please email firstname.lastname@example.org!