Canadian troops 'frustrated' as military cuts cost-of-living allowance to 7,700 members

'It's not really about compensation,' says retired lieutenant-general Guy Thibault, who previously served as vice-chief of the defence staff. 'It's just that they're not feeling valued.'

Canadian troops ‘frustrated’ as military cuts cost-of-living allowance to 7,700 members
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The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) plan to cut the cost-of-living allowance for thousands of troops without much notice. According to a service announcement last week, about 7,700 military members will not receive its succeeding housing benefit in July.

The Department of National Defence and the Treasury Board quashed a 14-year tit-for-tat last week by stating their intent to replace the military's existing cost-of-living allowance with a new housing benefit.

Established in 2000 to compensate members for the added costs of living and working in specific communities, the allowance rates froze in 2009 as defence and treasury officials fought over the program's cost and parameters.

Online forums dedicated to military personnel expressed their frustrations with the announcement and its abbreviated timeline, which experts say speaks volumes about how the military treats its people.

"We're pissing people off," said retired lieutenant-general Guy Thibault, who previously served as vice-chief of the defence staff, adding, "this may be the final straw that pisses them off. 

“It's not really about compensation,” contends Thibault. “It's just that they're not feeling valued."

Canadian Forces College professor Alan Okros said the plan blindsided members, who believed the Armed Forces would raise rates and expand eligibility to ineligible troops.

"There was this expectation of, 'It's going to be much better,'" said Okros, adding that members believed the Treasury Board would allocate more money for troop compensation for their service. 

Instead, the military unveils a housing benefit they claim is more equitable and efficient than the previous allowance because it is tied to salary, includes more geographic locations, and will cost about $30 million less per year.

The budding anger and frustration from no prior consultations will likely worsen the recruitment and retention crisis of Canada’s military.

Owing to vaccine mandates, the Canadian military lost 1,880 soldiers, as reported by the Department of National Defence on May 31, 2022.

“It's always big announcements. And then we don't hear about it for years on end. Then there's a new announcement,” said Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, military culture expert at Canadian Global Affairs.

"It's emblematic of how we talk about personnel policy and how the military communicates [with] its personnel.”

Members have also complained the Armed Forces tied the housing benefit to the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment without consideration for family size and not inflation.

The new benefit and pay increases have nonetheless sparked a debate over compensation for military personnel. 

With members also receiving a 10% pay increase retroactively over four years since 2021, some argue they are compensated well.

"We've got a pretty well-paid force, not only against other allied forces or volunteer forces but against the general population," said Thibault, chair of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute think tank.

"In terms of where we're going with the economy, it's not unique to the Canadian Forces. It's a societal problem with interest rates, inflation, the economy, and housing."

Instead, experts feel the reaction is more symptomatic of more significant problems as the Armed Forces face growing demands while struggling with a shortage of personnel, old equipment, and efforts to overhaul its culture radically.

"Our government and Canadians seem to care for the Canadian Forces," said Thibault. "But not care enough about them to make it a priority, or to address some of these longstanding problems."

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