Retired general Andrew Leslie’s name hit the news this weekend when CTV reported that the military paid $72,000 to move his household a few blocks down the street in the wealthy Ottawa neighborhood of Rockcliffe.
Ceasefire.ca’s co-founder Steven Staples was one of the commentators featured in the report aired on CTV National News on Saturday.
“That’s a shocking figure considering that the military is dealing with budget cuts and says they don’t have enough money for wounded soldiers,” he said. “To spend that amount to move a general down the street, there’s just something wrong with that.”
The “moving scandal,” as CTV has dubbed it, has turned into a political fight because General Leslie, who retired in 2011, recently became a defence policy advisor to Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, and is expected to run as a Liberal candidate in the next federal election.
The Liberal Party has defended General Leslie, saying that the CTV News story about his $72,000 moving bill was a “smear campaign” promoted by the Conservatives.
Who is Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie (ret.)?
Recent media stories have focused attention on General Leslie, his background, and his role as a Trudeau advisor. But not many people know who he is, or how his views will influence Justin Trudeau.
Andrew Leslie comes from a wealthy family with deep military and political roots. His father was a brigadier general during the Korean War, and he is a grandson of former Chief of the General Staff and Minister of National Defence General Andrew McNaughton, as well as of former Canadian Minister of National Defence Brooke Claxton.
Afghan casualties and detainees
He has spent his professional life in the military, but his career was built in Afghanistan. He was head of the Canadian Army during the most intense period of combat, and controversy, in Kandahar from 2006 until 2010.
It was during this period that Canada suffered the largest number of military deaths, and the accusations that Canadian troops were handing detainees to Afghan torturers shocked Canadians and rocked the government.
His views on military strategy and policy are well known. He is a proponent of the Canadian Forces focusing its future capabilities on counter-insurgency warfare, and has expressed doubts about Canada’s future role in peacekeeping.
After leaving his role as head of the Army, he authored an oft-cited report arguing that substantial savings could be found by reducing the Defence Department’s administrative costs.
He retired from the Canadian Forces in 2011 at the age of 54.
Influential Trudeau advisor
Since his appointment as a Trudeau advisor last fall, he has spoken out on defence issues several times on behalf of the Liberal Party, and will be a featured speaker at the party’s national convention this week in Montreal.
It is clear that he will play an influential role in determining the Trudeau Liberals’ defence policy positions, but his contributions may be of concern to the Ceasefire.ca community.
Leslie backed the wasteful $2 billion Close Combat Vehicle project
For instance, thousands of Ceasefire.ca supporters sent emails to Prime Minister Harper urging him to cancel the wasteful Close Combat Vehicle project, a $2 billion plan to purchase a new class of armoured vehicles for the Army.
Days before Christmas, Harper’s top soldier announced the deal was, indeed, cancelled—a huge success for Ceasefire.ca!
But Gen. Leslie’s reaction suggests the Liberal Party may be headed in the other direction on the issue, telling CBC that “This decision [to cancel the close combat vehicle] and others has put the lives of Canadian Forces personnel at unnecessary risk.”
CBC reported that Leslie doesn’t buy the argument that National Defence can no longer afford the program. “This is nonsense,” Leslie told CBC. “This program was approved by the government and personally endorsed by (former defence minister) Peter MacKay and the prime minister.”
Need to watch closely
Canadians need to pay close attention anytime a retired general is put in a position of influence over defence policy.
Public opinion polls are showing the Trudeau Liberals on the rise, a trend that is also reflected in our own annual survey of the Ceasefire.ca community.
But Justin Trudeau’s military policy is largely unknown. That’s why it is important that peace-supporters watch closely as Trudeau begins to define his views on key peace and military issues over the coming months.
Photo credit: DND