Retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie talks about the Conservatives' record on military procurement at the Liberal convention
In a speech full of irony and sly asides, retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie said he talked with "other political parties" when he left the Canadian Army, and in the end chose to become a Liberal.
"One of the other parties didn't take to this too well," he told his audience at the Liberal convention in Montreal.
Leslie explained that he told that party, "It wasn't you, it was me.
"But after this last week, let's be honest, it was really them," he said, referring doubtlessly to Defence Minister Rob Nicholson's comment that Leslie's moving expenses were "grossly excessive," and that he would be conducting a review.
Leslie was referring to his $72,000 moving bill, charged when he relocated from one Ottawa house to another a few kilometres away. Most of the bill was probably for real estate fees attached to the hefty prices that houses in Ottawa's tony Rockcliffe Park tend to fetch.
The expenses were a "benefit" he said, open to any member of the military on retirement. He described the policy as one the Conservatives have "owned" for the last eight years.
Leslie added he welcomes a review of his expenses by Nicholson.
"I have this vision of the minister looking at himself in the mirror and saying, 'What did I do?'"
Leslie didn't offer any proof the Conservatives tried to recruit him as a candidate before he became an adviser to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. If that is true, it's likely the Conservatives would have caught the moving fee in their vetting process, and were perhaps not bothered by it.
No details about talks with Conservatives
During a wide-ranging scrum with reporters after his speech, Leslie refused to definitively say whether the Conservatives had approached him, repeating that he didn't want to go into details.
He insisted there had been "a variety of discussions" with a "variety of parties." Asked by a reporter whether he had in fact approached the Conservatives, he explained there was a "lot of back and forth." adding that the same kinds of discussions happen in the corporate world.
During the scrum, reporters received an email from the Conservative Party which said, "Andrew Leslie approached the Conservative Party of Canada. His lack of judgment and defence of excessive taxpayer spending further underscores why he is Justin Trudeau's senior adviser."
However, when the CBC's Terry Milewski asked Pierre Poilievre if Leslie had approached the Conservatives, the minister of democratic reform replied simply, "Yes," but would not give details.
Friday evening, the Toronto Star reported that Leslie, while still in the military, had talks with the Prime Minister's Office about possible jobs with the RCMP or the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.
It's not clear why Leslie soured on the Tories, but in his speech Friday he said Conservatives divide the world into "friends" and "enemies." He added, "We [Liberals] don't back people under the bus, photo them, then do it again."
On the subject of his expenses, Leslie said he decided not to move his family for several of his military moves, implying money had been saved, and that he took comfort knowing he could have one final paid move when he entered retirement.
In response to a question about the government's treatment of veterans, Leslie started, "Let me talk about veterans …" and then hesitated for several seconds. When he resumed speaking, his voice shaking, he talked of disabled Afghanistan veterans still in their twenties. This group, he said, deserve the same ongoing funding offered to Second World War and Korean War vets, instead of the lump sum payment available from the current government.
Liberal sources have told CBC News the party is considering a policy of reversing the system of lump sum payments and returning to a regime of disability pensions for disabled vets.
Expected to run in Ottawa
Leslie is widely expected run for the Liberal nomination in the Ottawa-Orléans riding, and an on-the-ground organization for his likely election campaign is already underway.
But he didn't announce any candidacy in his speech. Instead, he mentioned an Army run he participated in with Trudeau, noting the Liberal leader is faster than he is.
"It was an honour to run with Justin and it would be an honour to run with him again," he said.
Despite this quip, Leslie refused to confirm to reporters any plans to run, and he deleted part of his Twitter profile that had said he is seeking the, "Liberal nomination for the great citizens of Ottawa-Orléans." A Liberal source said it's because he wants to announce his candidacy in the riding, not at the convention.
For the Liberals he was a highly desired catch, a veteran of Cyprus and Croatia, when it was part of the former Yugoslavia, as well as Afghanistan. His pedigree is star-studded with former Liberal defence ministers. Both grandfathers served in the posts, a position Leslie is probably slated for if he becomes an MP and the Liberals form a government.
He presents an intriguing parallel to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in the sense of trying to fulfill what might be perceived as destiny because of a father or grandfather.
The lead-up to his Montreal showcasing was marred when news broke last week that he had charged $72,000 in moving expenses.
As a former soldier, his response that he was within the rules is one that most would judge as reasonable, but as an aspiring politician in the context of disgraced senators who have also said they were following rules, more questions have arisen about his political judgment during a particularly sensitive atmosphere about taxpayer-funded expenses.