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Dance of the Generals

John Bell

March 2, 2014

At first I thought news that the Harper Tories were lambasting a retired general for his exorbitant moving expenses was an internet hoax. The Tories are old hands at screwing retired soldiers, but at least rhetorically they pretend to honour them. Especially generals.
Yet there they were slamming retired General Andrew Leslie for claiming $72,000 of taxpayers’ money to move from one Ottawa address to another. Leslie had served as general in charge of communications in Afghanistan and then Chief of Land Staff for the Canadian Forces.
The Tory/Liberal dance
Leslie is a “star candidate” for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, Trudeau’s chief security and military advisor, and a shoo in for cabinet if the Grits win the election. Leslie admits he shopped himself around for a political job. He told a press conference that there were “a variety of discussions between myself and a variety of political parties, of which the Conservatives were one.” The Tories outed his outrageous expenses, he claims, because he turned their offer down.
“Quite frankly, over the course of the last couple of years, depending on what level, people approached me and, as you get higher up the food chain, you're talking to them and you're approaching them and it's a bit of a back and forth, much akin to a dance.”
So Leslie opted for the Liberal lambada over the Tory two-step. So the Tories reacted like a dumped bad boyfriend. So Leslie is right in saying that if he had gone to the prom with Harper we would never have heard a word about it. The fact remains that the expenses were excessive–not illegal, but a reminder of the massive gap between top echelon of the military and the abused and ignored cannon fodder further down the “food chain”.
But it wasn’t just political opportunists inviting the General (Ret.) to cut a rug. Following his 2011 retirement, Leslie hooked up with a private company, CGI Group. CGI is an IT and consultancy corporation specializing in privatized health care information technology. You might remember it as the corporation at the centre of the eHealth Ontario scandal, when it failed to deliver promised technology, doled out no-bid contracts to friends and consultants, and squandered millions of taxpayer dollars.
How does a retired general fit into such a company? CGI hired Leslie to head up its new “Defence, Public Safety and Intelligence unit.” Privatization of military “services” is a major growth industry. Contracting out communications and information technology was a major feature of Canada’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, with the lion’s share of contracts going to scandal-plagued SNC Lavalin. Let’s go out on a limb here and suggest that if Leslie is elected CGI will find doors open to them.
When the Tories raised a stink about Leslie’s $72,000 moving bill, they took a gamble. How long before investigators began turning over other rocks, to see what other retired general officers had stuck taxpayers with big bills?
It didn’t take long for the spotlight to fall, ever so briefly, on disgraced former general Dan Menard. The $40,000 claimed by Menard to move to the United Arab Emirates is almost a bargain next to the cost of Leslie moving a few Ottawa blocks. But Menard is no bargain.
Formerly Canada’s military commander in Afghanistan, Menard was court-martialed for having an affair with a subordinate and engineering a cover-up. From his new home in UAE, Menard could commute to his job as managing director of the Kabul office of GardaWorld, a “global private security firm.”
Oh, for the good old days when a mercenary was proud to call himself a mercenary.
According to GardaWorld’s website, Menard headed their “commercial, operations and projects throughout the country, including existing and new contracts with the U.S. government, non-governmental and commercial clients.”
While the Tories are loudly critical of General Leslie, they have been less vocal about Menard. Perhaps the reason is that Menard is not a Liberal Party supporter. Or perhaps it is due to his arrest in January by Afghan police on charges of gun smuggling.
Menard spent almost a month in a Kabul jail before being released in mid February. What was going on? As the CTV news story put it, “It is not uncommon for foreign contractors to be jailed due to government corruption.” This is a pretty churlish way to describe Canada’s ally. And we all know that foreign contractors (SNC Lavalin, CGI, et al) are never guilty of corruption.
The trend to “private security contractors” is not new. Corporations like Blackwater used the Iraq war to hit pay dirt. Even at the occupation’s height, there were as many former special forces mercenaries (US Navy Seals, British Special Forces, etc.) on the ground as those serving in the actual militaries. These are highly trained killers. According to 2008 data, mercenary corporations were cashing in on a global market worth $100 billion per year.
And while Canadian military privatization has tended to specialize in communication and intelligence, former members of JTF2­–specialized commando and long-range sniper personnel–are in demand. Those with long memories will recognize Joint Task Force 2 as the repackaged Airborne regiment that was disgraced in Somalia in the 1990s: deliberate murder of civilian children and evidence of a culture of racism and white supremacy forced a name change and rebranding.
The shuffle of generals from the national military service to private boardrooms is no accident. There is even a government body, the Canadian Forces Contractor Augmentation Program, designed to facilitate the process. General Leslie just wants to add a stopover in elected office to the revolving door. Harper is anything but opposed, as long as that revolving door leads into his own caucus.
From a general’s exorbitant moving expenses to corruption in the multi-billion dollar market of military privatization in a few easy steps. This is the real dance of the generals, a military ball. We may pay the piper but they call the tune.


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