By Michael Den Tandt, Postmedia News September 18, 2013 10:08 AM
General Andrew Leslie, the former commander of the Canadian Army and the author of a controversial report on military transformation, has joined Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's team as a senior adviser on foreign and defence issues, and is not ruling out running for a Commons seat himself in 2015.
"I believe in public service, I believe it's a worthy calling," the retired three-star general told Postmedia News. "I'd like to continue serving in whatever way I can."
Leslie retired from the Canadian Forces two years ago after serving 35 years in uniform. In 2011 he produced an influential and widely discussed report that called for "more teeth, less tail," in the Canadian Forces, in other words the reduction of staff jobs at head office in favour of more resources for equipment, training and operations. Since then he has grown progressively more critical of the Harper government's defence policies, in particular the way it has allocated dwindling budget dollars.
In confirming his move into partisan politics, Leslie reiterated those criticisms, saying that since 2006, Department of Defence spending on "the tail" – or overhead – has grown by 40 per cent, versus 10-per-cent growth for front-line functions. "Instead of having sound fiscal management which would reduce tail and invest in teeth, it appears today the teeth is being reduced and the tail is hardly even touched," he said.
DND's spending on consultants and contractors rose from $2.77 billion to $3.25 billion in one year alone, from 2011 to 2012, Leslie said, adding that "the amount of money DND is not allowed to spend" last year reached $2.3-billion. "These issues cannot be solved by DND," he said. "These issues have to be solved by the government of Canada."
The retired general was also critical of the procurement problems and delays that have become endemic for the Canadian military. "If the need is not going to go away and our troops and airmen and sailors need that equipment, the government needs to pay a lot of attention to delivering on equipment, when it's needed and when it's programmed. And quite frankly, that hasn't happened."
Another key area of focus, he said, would be the welfare of Canadian military veterans. "That's worthy of much more attention than it has been given in the past. I know Justin shares that concern."
Leslie stressed that he'd never held membership in a political party, until "a very short while ago." He added: "I have been completely non-partisan for 35 years in uniform. I've been retired now for two years. There have been many other soldiers in the past who've chosen to continue to their service by giving advice to political parties of their choosing."
That tradition extends to Leslie's own family: Both his grandfathers served as Liberal defence ministers. One, Andrew McNaughton, commanded Canadian troops in the Second World War and was a friend of William Lyon Mackenzie King.
Leslie said he hasn't decided yet whether to run for office himself, but isn't ruling it out. "Keep in mind our remit is to co-ordinate and listen and help craft," he said. "But like any good soldier – including generals, retired – I'm keeping my options open."
Asked what motivated him to make this move now, Leslie said he'd been impressed by Trudeau's leadership over the past year and decided he wanted to help him. He found the Liberal leader's "forthright honesty" and "willingness to embrace new ideas" refreshing, he said. "I find him, quite frankly, an inspirational leader, someone I want to follow," Leslie said. "And I've met a lot of leaders in my time."
Asked how he expects Liberal foreign policy will differentiate itself from the Conservative government's in the years ahead, Leslie demurred. "I think it would be inopportune for me to try to steer discussions. The first role of a co-chair is to listen." However, a senior Liberal source said the party's long-held, overarching view – that Canada should promote international peace and security while avoiding "picking sides in foreign conflicts" – is unlikely to change.
Leslie's only official role in the Liberal party, for now, will be to serve as an unpaid co-chair of Trudeau's "council of advisers" on foreign and defence policy, alongside retired astronaut, MP and former Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau. Tuesday Trudeau named Toronto Centre Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland and Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison as co-chairs of a similar "council of economic advisors."
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