Ombudsman writes to Wing Commander of 15 Wing Moose Jaw to expand upon the end of visit debrief

23 February 2015

Colonel Alexander Day
Wing Commander
15 Wing Moose Jaw
PO Box 5000
Station Main
Moose Jaw, SK S6H 7Z8 

 

Dear Colonel Day:  

I am writing to follow up on our visit to 15 Wing Moose Jaw from February 2-5, 2015. During this visit, my staff and I were pleased to meet with and listen to concerns and positive feedback from military personnel, civilian employees, caregivers and military family members.  Although we did not have the opportunity to meet with the Commandant of 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School (CFFTS), we appreciated the time and the openness with which we were met by everyone, particularly given the high tempo of training operations at your Wing. 

I would like to take this opportunity to expand upon the end of visit debrief I provided to you and your Wing Chief before departing Moose Jaw on February 5. In particular, I would like to highlight some of the concerns that we heard during our visit. I recognize that you and your staff are aware 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 leads to long lasting positive changes.

I.  Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC)

The team you have at the MFRC, led by Mr. Regan Gorski, is a dedicated and caring group that truly contributes to making a difference and to connecting with families so that they feel at home in Moose Jaw. Some family members expressed their wish that the “Welcome Wednesdays” be done on a few evenings a month to allow spouses who return to work to continue meeting their “second family.”

Issues were brought forth about daycare shortages and long wait times for daycare at Moose Jaw. The current solution of casual daycare provided by the MFRC’s Early Learning Center (ELC) is good for many, but does not help families in which two parents work. However, we were informed that a solution is underway to consider the expansion of the infrastructure with the intent to offer alternate solutions in 2015.

Considering the challenges of fundraising to meet the demands, I want to highlight the exemplary collaboration of the MFRC staff, Personnel Support Programs (PSP) staff and the surrounding community to optimize services to families. These are important initiatives that are having a real and constructive impact on the lives of military families at Moose Jaw. Keep up the excellent work.

II. Barracks and Canadian Forces Housing Agency (CFHA)

The renovated barracks with kitchen facilities were brought up as a very positive point for the students.  On the other hand, when it comes to Residential Home Units (RHUs), 15 Wing is no exception; numerous issues were discussed at each town hall meeting.  Much frustration was expressed over the rent charges as well as the lack of services provided by CFHA and contractors. 

On the matter of the condition of the Moose Jaw RHUs, there are serious concerns with respect to the overall safety of units.  Members described a variety of situations such as frequent flooding in basements, very large cracks in foundations and basement walls, and poor quality or very old windows requiring covering to prevent the heat from escaping. Some also mentioned having to purchase space heaters to ensure their children’s rooms would not go down to freezing temperatures during the nights.  Members stated they are incurring higher than normal energy charges due the state of their RHU; in turn, they also face increases in rent charges that the repairs or renovations, when completed, do not justify.  

Many noted that the services provided by CFHA are inadequate as there are no after hour services; consequently, members or spouses have to take time off work and lose wages to accommodate contractors. Members shared that requests for repairs are often left unanswered and that required renovations have unreasonably long wait times and often are completed by sub-contractors, who are difficult to find because the payment schedule by CFHA often takes over a month. Families feel they have no recourse for the lack of quality of work by inexperienced contractors. On a positive note some members found if they engaged their chain of command this helped in accelerating the required services in a timely manner. However, this is not a viable long-term solution.

Housing was of great concern for members in Moose Jaw, specifically, the lack of RHUs and the constraints with regards to door-to-door moves because of the lack of available housing:  members move their families to the City of Moose Jaw and they have to move again, at their own expense, when RHUs are available. We were informed that priority is given at CFHA’s discretion and that there is no clear direction and policy as to who is eligible for priority housing. Concerns were expresses with regards to the wait time for a unit being over a year. A more transparent communication about priority attribution and repair schedule is what CAF members and families would appreciate.

III. Medical Issues

I understand that the medical staff, a lodger unit of 17 Wing Winnipeg, is structured to medically support your operations in addition to a number of Reservists in various other geographical locations, such as Saskatoon and Dundurn. Consequently, it is a challenge trying to provide care for everyone in each of the locations, and referrals to obtain services in the community close to the member is sometimes the only option, but very difficult to be approved. The medical staff also highlighted concerns regarding the provision of medical care to Regular Force members due to having to rely on civilian hospitals for services such as MRIs. A lack of available medical services for families was also mentioned. I encourage your efforts to support the medical staff in communicating the uniqueness of providing services to members in various locations in Saskatchewan.

IV. Pay, PLD – Screening Cold Lake

Questions were asked regarding pay raises and post living differential (PLD) review dates. The concerns were brought up by all military levels.  Some pilot candidates and families were concerned about the financial impact of postings to Cold Lake and asked when the PLD rates would be reviewed. I reiterated that the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Department of National Defence had this issue at hand, but the delay in the upcoming budget is expected to have an impact on the implementation date of the benefit.

V. Civilian Employees – Classification

We also heard a number of concerns regarding civilian staffing, classification and human resources advice.  It was mentioned that some work descriptions have not been reviewed in more than ten years and that there is a lack of understanding from the military side on what duties belong to civilians.  It was brought forward that there is difficult to reach and inconsistent HR support as well as questionable expertise (for example, a manager requested advice and was provided with a response contrary to what the collective agreement dictates).  The frequent changes in HROs assigned to the Moose Jaw files have a detrimental effect on the efficiency of staffing and the confidence managers have.  There is a wish for increased support, communication and transparency. That being said, we encouraged civilian employees and managers to avail themselves of the resources and complaint mechanisms available to them and to contact us for general information and individual assistance. 

VI. Training Tempo and Paternity Leave

The difficulty to balance operational requirements to meet production target levels, members and family needs was reflected in the concerns brought forward.  Spouses were concerned about the safety of their loved ones flying when tired or during icy conditions.  The training tempo and not knowing if parental leave requests would be approved were also discussed.  In our departing brief, you acknowledged the dilemma you and your staff have as you are facing a 10% decrease of instructing capacity should each parental leave be granted at the requested periods. I recommend communicating the intent clearly and decision quickly as the uncertainty adds further stress to families and members.

VII. Intended Place of Residence (IPR)

On numerous occasions, staff has brought up the frustration and perception of unfairness regarding the IPR eligibility criteria in the Relocation Directive.  The fact that untrained members, even if medically released, are not eligible to any relocation benefits to return to their place of enrolment is problematic.  In other words, a pilot candidate who was enrolled in Newfoundland and is released medically in Moose Jaw is responsible for all costs to return to Newfoundland. In some instances, candidates have families and this can represent a sum of $40,000, coupled with the earnings loss upon release. Only untrained members released for misconduct (item 1) have their transportation costs reimbursed at Crown expense.  Although this is CAF wide, 15 Wing – like other training Bases and Wings – is raising this concern. I informed the group that Director Compensation and Benefits Administration is well aware of this issue and that it is part of the relocation benefits discussions at Treasury Board.

VIII. Integrated Personnel Support Centre (IPSC) and Transition Services

In addition to the Personnel Selection Officer (PSO) being out of province, SCAN seminars are difficult to schedule and especially problematic to attend for members on leave (sick leave or retirement leave) as they have to be on duty to attend SCAN.  We discussed the option of filming the next SCAN seminar and making the presentation slides and contacts available to all on the Internet, allowing members to access the information at any time.

The current shortage of staff has negative consequences on required medical follow ups and the recovery process. For example, some members have to wait 54 days for a ten-minute follow-up appointment. Additionally, Dundurn has a big demand for services; currently, 26 members’ medical needs are not adequately met by the medical officer’s scheduled visits – once every two weeks.  IPSC staff are very grateful for the support you have provided them to reorganize the offices and for the approved new resources. Your dedicated staff is looking forward to the approved positions to be staffed to better support the ill and injured CAF members and their families in transitioning to civilian life.

In closing, I would like to commend you and your senior leadership team for your commitment to the men and women who serve under your command. I recognize that some of the issues and challenges you are confronting are, to at least some extent, outside of your control. That being said, I encourage you to continue pushing as hard as you can to address the local concerns at your Wing. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my Office 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 Major David Dea, 2Lt Ian Pitman (driver) and especially Lt Sarah Doherty, who went above and beyond to facilitate our visit.

Sincerely,
 

Gary Walbourne
Ombudsman
 

c.c.:

Lieutenant-General J.A.J.Y.  Blondin
Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force

Lieutenant-General D.B. Millar
Chief of Military Personnel                                                                            

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