The committee that decided to cut danger pay for Canadian troops serving on four international missions "followed current regulations," Canada's chief of defence staff said Thursday.
Although the Harper government intervened to restore the previous level of compensation for soldiers currently deployed, the chief of the defence staff maintained the cuts remain "within established administrative protocols," General Tom Lawson said in a statement.
The statement, posted on the Canadian Forces website and circulated to the media, came after several weeks of confusion about why and how soldiers' danger pay was being cut and whether the pay that was restored was a short-term fix or a long-term reversal of the earlier committee decision.
Although the defence department is under pressure to trim its spending in many areas, risk assessment rationale was cited to justify the recommendation to trim danger pay specifically.
This week , further confusion arose over whether soldiers currently training Afghan forces in different parts of Afghanistan were intended to be treated differently.
In each instance, as news of the danger pay reductions hit the media and politicians and political staff said decisions made by bureaucrats would be reversed, it became unclear who had the ultimate decision-making authority over compensation levels for hazardous missions.
Lawson's statement alludes to the "considerable attention in recent weeks" to danger pay issues and says he's "writing to ensure that events associated with these allowances are well understood by all Canadians, Canadian Armed Forces personnel and their families."
Soldiers recommended pay cut
In trying to explain the situation to his troops, the top soldier seeks to distance political or civil service decision-makers from the original recommendation to adjust danger pay according to changing circumstances.
- April 3: Defence figures suggest headquarters not cut as directed
- April 9: Canadian Forces face danger pay cut in Afghanistan
- April 10: Ottawa signals about-face on danger pay cut
- April 17: Government promises to make up soldiers' pay cut
- April 22: Extra danger pay 'error' won't be clawed back, MacKay says
Lawson's statement emphasizes that the decision originated within a committee "comprised mainly of uniformed Canadian Armed Forces members," working from "input from each of the deployed task forces and advice from subject matter experts such as medical, operations and intelligence advisors."
The committee is "arms-length" from the government and senior defence department leadership, Lawson writes, and is "guided by principles of fairness and impartiality."
The committee met in January, the CDS writes, and decided that "hardship and risk levels for four international missions should decrease based on an analysis of changing conditions in designated theatres of operation."
This committee "followed current regulations in formulating its recommendations," Lawson maintains.
The decision was overturned, Lawson writes, because "the Government of Canada and the Minister of National Defence intervened to ensure fairness to Canadian men and women deployed on operations by delaying the implementation of the amended allowances."
Overpayment error 'receiving careful attention'
Lawson's statement also addressed a second source of confusion this week: an "administrative error" that led to some 100 troops who had or were currently serving in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan being overpaid and then ordered to return the overpayment.
Lawson wrote that although the "pay recovery action" for those who were "inadvertently overpaid" while deployed to Afghanistan is "frustrating to military members and leaders," "corrective action is always taken to ensure the proper stewardship of public funds in accordance with predetermined compensation rates."
Lawson says the overpayment issue is "receiving careful attention to ensure that it is applied in a reasonable way."
Earlier this week, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the soldiers would not have to pay the money back.
When the first controversy arose, the prime minister's office said it had asked defence officials to "re-examine this decision" to reduce danger pay levels.
Lawson's statement does not indicate what the results of that re-examination might be, saying only that the "Canadian Armed Forces are committed to frequently reviewing our processes to ensure fair, honest and timely rates of hardship and risk compensation."
The statement ends by repeating that "all changes to allowance levels in recent months have been generated within the Canadian Armed Forces, within established administrative protocols."
During Friday's question period, Chris Alexander, the parliamentary secretary for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, was asked by NDP MP Kennedy Stewart whether the government was going to permanently reverse the "unfair" decision on danger pay.
"Each mission's hardship and risk levels are set and reviewed at least every six months by an arm's length committee composed of officials from the Canadian Armed Forces, with representation from the RCMP and the Treasury Board," Alexander said.
"The government has publicly asked that hardship and risk rates for deployed personnel be reviewed," he said.