Letter to Wing Commander Goose Bay: follow-up to Ombudsman’s visit

12 May 2015

Lieutenant-Colonel Luc Sabourin
Wing Commander
5 Wing Goose Bay
PO Box 7002, Station A
Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador
A0P 1S0

 

Dear Lieutenant-Colonel Sabourin,

I am writing to follow up on our visit to 5 Wing Goose Bay from March 23-27, 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. We left with valuable information about how it is to serve, work and live in Goose Bay.

I would like to personally thank you for your warm welcome and I am especially grateful that you and your staff took very precious time from your families and joined us for an outstanding dinner.  The hospitality we received during the entire engagement was second to none.

I would like to take this opportunity to expand upon the end of visit debrief I provided to the Acting Wing Commander, Major Morin, on March 26, and 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.

Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC)

Part of the positive feedback goes to the MFRC staff.  You have a team that is extraordinarily dedicated and caring, that truly contributes to making a difference and tailors the assistance to the needs of members and families – all that despite the fundraising challenges that exist in Goose Bay.

Concerns were raised regarding the difficulty to find qualified Early Childhood Educators in Goose Bay and the absence of daycare services for the 0-2 year age group children, either at the MFRC or in town.  That presents a challenge for families where both parents work outside the home. Currently, four spouses are offering daycare services from home, mitigating the situation in the short term at 5 Wing.   

I was pleased to hear that respite care is offered to spouses for separations of less than 30 days, as some members must leave for training on short but frequent occasions.  Additionally, the child care rates for the 2 years and up groups are the best rates available throughout MFRCs in Canada.  These are two examples of tailoring the services to the needs specific to the isolated post of Goose Bay and are best practices worth sharing. Keep up the excellent work.

Canadian Forces Housing Agency (CFHA)

Exceptionally, no major complaints were raised from members and families occupying Residential Housing Units (RHUs) in 5 Wing Goose Bay during my visit.  In discussing with staff, it was understood that quick access to qualified contractors is difficult, as many resources are drawn by the Muskrat Falls project. The CFHA staff and families are well aware of this challenge.  The overall satisfaction with units and services is very positive and I will relay this positive feedback to Ms. Dominique Francoeur, CFHA’s Chief Executive Officer. 

One common concern was the elimination of a key RHU feature in the recapitalization plans. We visited the different units and we understand the frustration expressed at all levels regarding the exclusion of the “bump out” addition to the main floor living space in the recapitalization of certain RHUs.  This addition – which amounts to $7,000 more per unit – is seen as a major quality of life enhancement in Goose Bay.  It makes a considerable difference for occupants to enjoy the short summers, limit black flies and have a little more room to supervise young children inside when temperatures drop during winter. I will inquire about the flexibility of the plan with Ms. Francoeur.

French Medical Services for Dependents

The main issue raised was the lack of availability of French medical services.  Despite all efforts to support French speaking members and dependents, the availability of bilingual support, particularly for mental health services, is not sufficient.  I recognize that you, the Clinic and the MFRC staff are aware of this and actively working on addressing this important gap.  I also understand that the plan is that a bilingual doctor will be joining the Clinic this year and the MFRC staff is hiring a social worker.

As the MFRC will be relocating close to the Clinic, I foresee this co-location as a positive measure to work in partnership, offer bilingual resources and encourage families to use those resources in a more informal yet confidential manner.  Until these changes take place, I recommend continuing the efforts, even if this means assistance in French is provided via video conference or a phone call from another location. We are available to assist should you or the Clinic staff not be successful. 

Civilian Employees – Classification

As during my other engagements, we heard a number of concerns from civilian employees regarding classification reviews.  It was mentioned that some work descriptions have not been reviewed in more than 14 years, and there is the perception that no classification review is possible unless a grievance is submitted.  Concerns were raised regarding the lack of local Human Resources support for managers to inquire and obtain guidance. 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. That being said, I will raise this with the Assistant Deputy Minister (Human Resources-Civilian) and will be considering the civilian classification review as on one of our future investigations.

Untrained Members Posted to Goose Bay

The difficulty to balance operational requirements and timing of training was reflected in the concerns brought forward.  Posting untrained Canadian Armed Forces members to 5 Wing has a direct impact on families and the struggle to adapt to the isolation.  A member leaving for training for months in the week following the move to Goose Bay can be a shock. It is understood this situation is sometimes unavoidable. It is important to highlight these significant struggles while briefing members and spouses during the screening.

Mortgage Breaking Penalties - Relocation

On numerous occasions, staff brought up the frustration and unfairness regarding the non-reimbursement of mortgage breaking penalties incurred when posted to Goose Bay.  In some instances, families incurred a mortgage breaking penalty of more than $6,000. Although this change in relocation directive is applied across the Canadian Armed Forces, it is of particular importance for personnel posted to Goose Bay because members are not authorized to purchase a residence on the economy, as part of the relocation benefits. The Director Compensation and Benefits Administration is well aware of this issue; I will review the complaints received at my office to determine the next step forward.

Special Christmas / New Year’s Leave Travel Program

Members pointed out that flights in and out of Goose Bay to travel within Canada are expensive. It may cost $400 to fly to Florida, but visiting relatives in Canada with a family of five children can be difficult to afford at $1,500 per ticket.  For this reason, members very much appreciate the Special Christmas/New Year’s Leave Travel Program that provides the opportunity for Canadian Armed Forces personnel to be reunited with their families during the holiday period.  However, members and families expressed their wish that every military member (single or not) posted to Goose Bay be considered as “Category 01” for this special program, to allow priority over members at major centres who can access better priced flights. 

Limited Facilities and Aging Infrastructure

Members, families and civilian employees expressed frustration at the limited recreation facilities in Goose Bay.  Now that the bowling alley is no longer available and the youth centre will be relocated to a smaller facility, personnel worry about the fewer activities available to youth. We understand that the aging facilities and the residual value of the infrastructure is quite a challenge to administer and that safety shall prevail.  We are also aware of some positive steps being taken, including the recent gym renovations, and the efforts of the motivated and resourceful personnel support programs (PSP) staff to think ahead to accommodate the needs of 5 Wing personnel as much as possible.  On a very positive note, the operation of the theatre – the only one in the Goose Bay community – is a profitable initiative worth optimizing.

Once again, I would like to thank you and your leadership team for your commitment to the men and women who serve under your command.  Thank you to staff for their help in the organization and implementation of a very successful constituent engagement 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

Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence K.
Commanding Officer
Headquarters Integral Support / Canadian Joint Operations Command   

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