Leslie’s Legacy

By David T. Jones on February 19, 2014

Washington, DC…It is a shame and a pity that Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie’s immediate legacy from a lifetime of professional and distinguished military service should be a kertuffle over his moving expenses.

The “perk”--and it is a serious benefit--is standard not only for Canadian Armed Forces retirees but also for U.S. professional military and career diplomats.  

Specifically, retiring U.S. diplomats often serve a final posting overseas or, if serving a terminal assignment in Washington DC, don’t expect to retire there.  Consequently, our retirees are given a year following retirement to seek funding for a final move into their retirement housing.  Indeed, professional career personnel counselors, well aware of the costs of moving housing effects, advise prospective retirees to pick a distant destination as their possible retirement home to maximize potential benefits.  For example, someone retiring from an assignment in Beijing is advised to select a spot such as in Florida or Maine.  Someone retiring out of Moscow may be advised to select Hawaii or Los Angeles as a prospective final retirement spot.  

Of course nobody is required to retire in such distant areas; a high percentage of diplomats retire in the Washington area, often reoccupying homes that they purchased in the past.  But the option for a more distant location associated with a job offer or family unification in a home town exists for a year.

And moving isn’t cheap.  You may have accumulated a 10,000 volume personal library.  You may have expensive and/or paintings, chinaware, ceramics, decorations, etc that require heavy crates and packaging to prevent damage.  Moreover, you may have material in long term storage that needs to be consolidated at your retirement home.  Each diplomatic/military rank has weight allowances and limits for transportation/storage that if exceeded must be paid personally.  

Military and diplomatic families are familiar with being “packed up/packed out”--from one assignment and posting to another.  A senior military officer may move 30 times in a career.  And, for the most part, such action goes smoothly with material sent around the world and back with marginal loss and damage.  Of course there are always horror stories:  a warehouse fire destroys the household effects (HHE) of 20 military and diplomat families; an automobile is shipped upside down; a cargo ship with HHE in containers is flooded; paperwork is bungled and HHE are sold as having been abandoned by the unwitting owner who has continued to pay storage charges.  And “insurance” is often by weight unless the owners have taken expensive additional precautions.

So the basic “perk” from which Lt.-Gen. Leslie benefitted is defensible and understandable.  Media reports the actual moving costs to be approximately $12,000.  It is the remainder of the $72,000 that has been described as “real estate” expenses that remains puzzling--and which requires comprehensive, transparent explanation.

The Defense Minister’s bombastic criticism of the costs is certainly politically driven.  He employed a bludgeon when a stiletto would have better served.  But LTG Leslie’s huffy retort that he’d dodged real bullets so he wasn’t concerned about manufactured criticism won’t satisfy.  

To be sure, it is possible that these “real estate” charges fell within the letter of the regulations, but that explanation really doesn’t satisfy either.  LTG Leslie has suggested that he never saw the final costs, which is akin to denying responsibility for something over which he was responsible.  Just like Paul Martin’s denial of knowing anything about Abscam’s illegal financial-advertising contract manipulations despite being Finance Minister senior Quebec MP strained credibility, LTG Leslie’s protestation of ignorance appears disingenuous.

There are long histories of fiscal actions that are legal but foolish, e.g., President Clinton’s tax claim for a charitable deduction for his used underwear.  Or rule-stretching expenses adroitly combining personal pleasure with “business,” e.g., parliamentary/congressional boondoggle travel to foreign lands.  There are smarter responses.  One diplomat, when offered a yacht trip sought advice from State’s legal department.  The response:  it would be legal but you’d be crazy to take it.   

Currently, the Liberals are in circle-the-wagons mode.  LTG Leslie is a designated “star” and programmed as a major speaker at the forthcoming Liberal Party meeting in Montreal.  This is at best a distracting humiliation for LTG Leslie and an illustration of weak vetting by Liberal leadership.  

In the end it will probably qualify as an illustration of Napoleon’s chief of police, Joseph Fouché, sobriquet “C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute”, often rendered in English, “It was worse than a crime; it was a stupidity.”


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