Letter to Base Commander on Ombudsman's visit to 5CDSG Gagetown

13 March 2018

Colonel K.E. Osmond, CD
Commander
5 Canadian Division Support Group Gagetown
Department of National Defence
PO Box 17000 Stn Forces
Oromocto, NB E2V 4J5

 

Dear Colonel Osmond:

I am writing to follow up on our visit to 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown from 5-9 February 2018.  I want to thank you, Lieutenant-Colonel Conway, and Chief Warrant Officer Laughlin for extending such incredible hospitality throughout our visit.  Your open-door policy, coupled with your encouragement of all members of the Defence Community in Gagetown to engage openly with my office, resulted in a very successful visit.

During this visit, my staff and I were pleased to meet with and listen to concerns and positive feedback from military personnel, civilian employees, Non-Public Funds / Personnel Support Program employees, caregivers and military family members. Overall, I was impressed with their passion for service and their engagement in meaningful dialogue during my outreach activities.

This letter is to expand upon the end of visit debrief I provided to Lieutenant-Colonel Conway on 9 February and highlight some of the concerns that we heard during the week.  I recognize that you and your staff are aware of many of these issues, but I thought it would be helpful to detail them nonetheless and to offer you our assistance should you wish to follow up on any of these matters.  I am a firm believer that collaboration and sharing best practices can lead to long-lasting positive changes to the Defence Community.

Bilingualism on Base

By far and away the most noteworthy concern voiced by both military members and civilians was the bilingualism requirements for civilian positions on base. Bilingualism requirements are significant barriers to full and adequate staffing of positions ranging from administrative support to critical medical and psycho-social professionals. Based on the information provided, I believe that these issues are systemic to 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, and I will be engaging directly with ADM (HR-Civ) to address these staffing concerns.

Integrated Personnel Support Centre (IPSC) / Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU)

The military members and civilian employees of the local IPSC are extremely professional and passionate about the work they do. My engagement with members posted to JPSU revealed an incredible appreciation for the hard-working staff. Members felt well-supported and that their best interests were always top of mind when staff engaged with the chain of command on their behalf. Notably, Captain Dan MacGregor has a stellar reputation with staff and members posted to JPSU. His professionalism made a lasting impact on my staff and I.

During our session, they raised the following concerns:

  • Members posted to JPSU indicated that a great deal of stigma still exists for members with mental health issues prior to posting to JPSU. The training centres were particularly singled out for being the worst culprits for this stigmatization.
  • One member voiced very serious concerns that his attempt to change trades was met with unnecessary rigidity by his chain of command considering his experience

New Relocation Program and Post Living Differential

There were a number of issues raised surrounding relocation and its associated benefits. Primarily, pending changes to the national contract for relocations (lack of awareness of changes and potential impact on members); relocation-related directives e.g.: changes to the Intended Place of Residence policy and a lack of flexibility within the Home Equity Assistance program; the freeze of the Post Living Differential rates since 2008.

I wanted to congratulate your ingenuity for establishing a “Brookfield Café” on base to allow members to access the internet and computers to work on their relocations as Brookfield Global Relocation Services (BGRS) rolls out the new program. With posting season looming and a new system to navigate, I believe the “Café” will help members transition into the new system. However, uncertainty and lack of information and awareness of the new program was reflected in all of my town halls involving members, as well as my meeting with families and the staff of the Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC). Indeed, general awareness of the new program is lacking, and communications from the senior chain of command on the new structure of the program has been sparse.

I have engaged the senior chain of command and the Minister regarding the significant concerns of members across the country regarding the lack of understanding of the new program. Should the details of the program not be clearly communicated to members and their families, my office will receive even more complaints than it already has on this issue.  

Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) and Families

The team at the MFRC is a dedicated and caring group that truly makes a difference in the lives of so many. I heard repeatedly from members and their families that the MFRC was the lynchpin of the community, and given the reception and constructive feedback I received during my visit, I echo their sentiments.

During our visit, we heard about the following issues:

  • There was a request that members have increased flexibility when it comes to caring for children in the event of snow days that result in school closures. Some members have exhausted nearly all personal leave as a result of these school closures, and the requirements to take leave in these instances.
  • There are a great deal of issues surrounding spousal employment opportunities. Those in the MFRC seized with assisting spouses find employment are doing their level best to assist. However, the local economy, bilingualism requirements for some positions on base and the provincial government, and seniority rules for provincial healthcare workers do provide barriers to employment for spouses.
  • Access to health care and general practitioners is still proving to be a challenge for families.
  • Access to specialized services for families who have children with special needs and wait times for those services remains a challenge for some. This issue is not endemic to CFB Gagetown.
  • There was a desire from MFRC employees and families to extend the Education Management Fund beyond the 12 month eligibility period.
  • Both MFRC staff and families raised concerns surrounding the Home Equity Assistance program and the adequacy of the benefits provided.
  • Families also recognized the good work that the Canadian Forces Housing Authority has done on the improvements to a large swath of the 1400+ housing units that it manages, as well as the relatively short wait-lists for access to that housing.

I am pleased to inform you that I have had productive conversations with senior leaders in the New Brunswick Government on issues that fall within their jurisdiction.

Many of the national issues such as HEA and the Education Management Fund will be raised with the senior chain of command.

Civilian Employees

My team and I had a very productive session with civilian staff. While we heard a number of individual stories, I felt that it would be appropriate to share the following concerns with you:

  • A number of employees have been affected by the Phoenix Pay System ranging from not receiving pay, receiving partial pay, overpayments and subsequent claw-backs, improper deduction of taxes, and failure to pay overtime, to name a few;
  • There is a significant difficulty in attracting medical staff, doctors, specialists, mental health professionals to the Base. Additionally, there are concerns regarding a lack of pre-med techs to conduct both workplace and PMQ health and safety audits.
  • There remains significant issues surrounding classification and work descriptions:
    • While this is not a new issue, I have officially launched a systemic review on the administration of civilian classification within DND.

Colonel Osmond, I would like to assure you that many of these concerns echo complaints we have heard across the Defence Team. Some of these issues will feed into our systemic reviews and are part of my engagement with the senior cadre within the DND/CAF.

In closing, I would like to commend you and your senior leadership team for your deep commitment to the men and women who serve under your command. I recognize that the issues and challenges you are confronting are, to some extent, outside of your control. I encourage you to continue to address the local concerns at your Base. Please do not hesitate to contact the office or myself should you require assistance.

I would also like to thank you and your staff for your help in the organization and implementation of a very successful constituent engagement visit. In particular, please extend my appreciation to Captain Walters who provided excellent support and facilitation for our visit.

Sincerely,

 

Gary Walbourne
Ombudsman

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