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Our Soiled, Sorry Public Life

Excellent op-ed by Andrew Cohen

As part of their severance, those who serve 20 years or more are offered a last move, at government expense, after they retire. Soldiers are asked to live in many places; the policy recognizes that the house you occupy at the end of your career may not be where you want to remain.

Leslie served 35 years at home and abroad and moved 18 times. When he left the military in 2011, he wanted to simplify things. He moved from a bigger house to a small one, in the same neighbourhood. The move cost some $72,000, of which the real estate fees could have come to perhaps $60,000. The rest went to packing and moving.

All expenses were covered by government.

So, what’s wrong here? What’s the offence? A distinguished soldier does his duty, retires honourably and sells his house. The bills are settled by the government, because that’s the arrangement.

But that’s not really the story, is it? The story here has less to do with General Leslie than Citizen Leslie, or perhaps, in the future, Minister Leslie. It’s about politics.

While Rob Nicholson asks his officials to explain this long-standing government policy — one he could have changed but hasn’t — here are a few questions for him.

Why is Andrew Leslie the first veteran to come under this kind of public scrutiny? Is $72,000 egregious? If so, what is the average figure for moves involving such neighbourhoods?

And how is it that Leslie’s expenses found their way to CTV News, which first reported this on the weekend? Is there a breach of privacy in your department, Minister? Your office suggested the document was acquired under the Access to Information Act, but CTV did not.

We know what is going on here. Andy Leslie is a Liberal. His father was a Liberal. His service notwithstanding, that displeases the government. Tell us, Minister Nicholson, would you have ordered an inquiry if Leslie had been running as a Conservative? Would your question have been as sharp, your anger as hot?

Could it be that Leslie’s expenses would never have found their way into the media at all? And could it be that the Conservatives wanted Leslie to join them, when they learned that he was going to the Liberals? Let us see this for what it is: a drive-by smear.

Argue, if you want, that after years of dislocation and adjustment, that Leslie and his wife had no right to move to a smaller house. Make it another great moral failing of another public servant, as we like to do these days in a country filled with accountants of envy.

If you do, though, remember that soldiers spend their lives disrupting their families, often with little notice and at great cost. Ask yourself why soldiers are committing suicide. Ask yourself about divorce, domestic violence, addiction and other consequences of military life.

As we disparage a decorated general, seeing scandal that isn’t there, consider the greater affront of a government that tolerates a minister, Julian Fantino, who insults veterans as he cuts their services. Now there’s gratitude.

Then ask yourself why Andrew Leslie and other good people would even contemplate entering our soiled, sorry public life.

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