09/16/2014 06:00 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:54 EDT

Conservatives do away with DND short-haul moving policy for retirees

OTTAWA - National Defence will no longer pay moving expenses for members of the armed forces who move less than 40 kilometres upon their retirement.

The Harper government is changing the relocation policy, which until now has covered the expenses for one last move by any veteran who served more than 20 years — whether the vet moved next door or across the country.

The change is clearly aimed at embarrassing retired general Andrew Leslie, who now advises Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on foreign policy and is seeking the Liberal nomination in Ottawa-Orleans.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson asked for a review of the relocation policy last February, after it was revealed that National Defence had paid $72,000 in 2012 to cover the cost of moving Leslie from one house in Ottawa to another only a few minutes away.

Leslie has said real estate fees made up the bulk of the tab and that he was unaware of the full cost at the time because National Defence directly paid movers, real estate agents and other third-party suppliers.

However, Nicholson says Leslie should not have claimed such "grossly excessive" expenses for moving such a short distance.

"The benefit is meant to help Forces' members when they retire — but using this privilege to move down the road is not in the spirit of the program," the minister said in a statement Tuesday.

"It is unfortunate that a senior Liberal adviser blatantly abused taxpayer dollars," he added, asserting that the change in policy is part of the Conservative government's commitment to "put an end to the Liberal culture of entitlement."

Leslie could not be reached for immediate comment.

The government says the 40-km threshold brings National Defence's relocation policy more in line with relocation policies that apply in other federal departments and agencies, such as the RCMP. Exceptions will be made for compassionate and medical reasons and extenuating personal circumstances.

While Nicholson has railed against Leslie's moving expenses, he's had little to say about the high cost of other moves involving officers, including $40,000 to move disgraced general Dan Menard to the United Arab Emirates after he was court-martialled for having sex with a subordinate and trying to cover it up.

The documents that included the tab for Leslie's move also detailed five other moves within Ottawa, including $59,600 to relocate the still-serving Maj.-Gen. Mike Day in 2013.