How much should we have paid to help Andrew Leslie move?

The meaning of $72,000

So here’s something to hash out with your loved ones during the traditional Family Day dinner (note: might not apply in your province).

On Saturday night, CTV reported that the retired general (now pledged to the Liberals and likely to run as a Liberal candidate in the next election) had had $72,000 of moving expenses covered in 2012 after he finished with the Canadian Forces.

The next day, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson declared that these expenses appeared “grossly excessive” and that he would be “asking the Department of National Defence to examine how an in-city move could possibly total over $72,000.”

Glen McGregor has the email Mr. Leslie sent to CTV and here is the statement the retired general later posted online. The program in question is the Integrated Relocation Program. In his email to CTV, Gen. Leslie says National Defence “handles and pays all the costs for the packing, shipping, real estate negotiations and fees, legal fees etc etc. DND pays these people directly, so I don’t know what the overall number is. We are not told.”

Mr. Leslie blames the Conservatives for the story and he now tells CTV that this is a “smear campaign.” Whatever the source of the story, the Defence Minister’s statement refers to Mr. Leslie as a “Liberal Defence Advisor” and the Prime Minister’s deputy chief of staff has criticized Mr. Leslie via Twitter (New Democrat apparatchiks seem to have taken an interest in the issue on Twitter as well) and the Liberals have sent out a note to supporters seeking money to help fight “Conservative attacks.”

So is $72,000 a lot to spend assisting a retired general through the IRP? Probably that’s more than most of us have incurred to move, but how much does the program usually cover? Did his expenses violate any of the program’s rules? And what does the coverage include? (In his email to CTV, Mr. Leslie says, “the overwhelming majority of the expense is certainly the real estate fees.” CTV reported that he sold his house for “more than a million dollars.” A five or six percent commission on a $1-million sale would account for most of that $72,000—but at this point we don’t have any details of that sum.)

To those questions you can add some philosophical ones: To what degree should we assist departing members of the Canadian Forces with making a move?

Update. My colleague John Geddes puts the focus on the Defence Minister.