NEWS

Canadian Forces ombudsman flags unequal housing allowances

10/17/2014 08:00 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST
Canada's military ombudsman is raising concerns about a housing allowance paid to some members of the Canadian Armed Forces but not to others.

The post living differential is intended to subsidize Forces members living in more expensive parts of the country. Forces members in Toronto can get nearly $1,500 per month extra to offset higher costs, while those based in Ottawa, Kingston and many other centres receive nothing beyond their base pay.

The issue came to a head in Wainwright, Alta., where Forces members receive no additional pay while their counterparts in Edmonton get an additional $684 per month.

In a report released Friday morning, Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne said members perceived that "the cost of living and price for basic necessities is higher in the Wainwright area than Edmonton."

"The cost of a house in Wainwright is quite expensive because of the economy that's there, comparable to what's in Edmonton, so that was a major concern. And then the quality of some of the residential housing units was also of concern," Walbourne said in an interview with CBC News.

Like much of Alberta, Wainwright's economy is booming from the energy industry. Housing is hard to find in the town of 6,300, where rents for a single family home can often be in the $1,200 to $1,400 per month range.

In his report, Walbourne notes that one Forces member indicated his income dropped by $13,000 per year with his move to Wainwright.

About 80 per cent of CFB Wainwright's 1,500 military and civilian personnel live outside the base. There are 186 residential units on the base. Rents range from about $600 for a 1,000-square-foot row house to just under $1,200 for a 2,000-square-foot detached home. Currently 38 of the homes sit empty, either under renovation or awaiting repairs.

Canadian Forces officials declined comment on the report, saying they haven't had a chance to see it yet.

Wainwright Mayor Brian Bethune said the lack of a post living differential for Wainwright CF members is a problem. 

"The No. 1 negative thing is they're not getting the allowances that they get in other places, and we'd certainly like to see that changed." 

"One problem that we always have with the military is they get paid more to live in Cold Lake and Edmonton and they don't get the same allowance to come to Wainwright. And why they don't get that I think is crazy," Bethune said.

In a report issued in November 2013, former military ombudsman Pierre Daigle raised similar concerns about CFB Cold Lake. In spite of receiving $319 per month under the program, many CF members are forced to take second jobs to make ends meet, Daigle said. He pointed out that those at the junior rank levels earn less-than-average Canadian or Alberta wages. 

Walbourne is urging members of the Forces concerned about the uneven post living differential to contact his office. But he said he's not optimistic about an immediate change coming to the program.

Correction : An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a Canadian Forces member told the ombudsman that his income dropped by $1,300 a month. The correct amount is $13,000 a year. (Oct 17, 2014 11:46 AM)

MORE:cbcNews