Message from the Ombudsman (December 4, 2015)

Ombudsman Visits Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Halifax and 12 Wing Shearwater

In March of 2015, I completed an engagement visit with several members of my staff to CFB Halifax and 12 Wing Shearwater. The purpose of this visit was to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day issues facing our constituents namely, CF Regular and Reserve Force personnel, civilian employees, PSP/NPF employees, caregivers and military family members.

Several issues were brought to our attention during the visit:   

Medical Staffing Levels

We heard concerns from medical staff about the ability to fill positions with qualified medical personnel. With a significant amount of mental health professionals retiring, there is a need to fill these important positions in a timely manner. The concern relates to not being able to access national pools of qualified candidates and the overall amount of time it takes to hire new staff. Qualified candidates often accept other jobs because the hiring process takes so long.

I brought forth these concerns to both Base leadership and Susan Harrison, the Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of the Department of National Defence (DND) Human Resources (Civilian). I was assured that the issue of staffing levels is one of particular importance to the base. The Deputy Minister and Chief Military Personnel leadership are kept informed on the progress being made towards filling these positions.

Psychologist’s Salary

There were also concerns raised about the pay of psychologists at the base. It is difficult to find qualified psychologists with the required experience who are willing to work at the current salary levels. We were told that the current levels are more in line with less experienced psychologists. DND is not seen as a top tier employer in the Halifax area. There is also difficulty in attracting qualified mental health professionals to DND because of the location of certain posts and the limited supply of mental health professionals in Canada.

In an effort to help resolve this, psychologists are offered payment at the top of the pay scale. DND has been able to actively participate as a member of the Health Services collective bargaining team. It was an opportune time to seek progress on this matter since many of the collective agreements expired in September 2014. In October of 2014, CMP and ADM (HR-Civ) stood up a Tiger Team which successfully staffed 54 vacant mental health positions across Canada. Recruitment of Health Services staff remains an important focus for DND nation-wide.

Employee Morale

The morale of employees was also raised as a concern due to a number of factors.

The current cost and administration of parking is an issue for people working at CFB Halifax. This has been a topic of considerable employee and union engagement in Halifax.  The second issue is the Alternate Service Delivery program. It is a source of stress for civilian employees as the program gives the impression that they are training other employees to replace them.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Sincere concerns were expressed about the future of the training program for Employee Assistance Program Referral Agents. Employees expressed that with the operational tempo remaining at a high level on the base, the program is a valuable and needed resource. Employees are concerned that the program will be phased out when it is still much needed. ADM (HR-Ci)v assured us that the EAP program is one of the cornerstone elements of DND’s well-being program. As such, an EAP Satisfaction Survey was recently promulgated throughout DND to determine how to best enhance the services offered.

Baseline Medicals

RCAF personnel at 12 Wing Shearwater, both at the leadership and maintenance line level flagged their concerns related to occupational health medical surveillance.  The senior Medical Officer, through the Preventative Medicine Technicians, is responsible for assessing occupational health hazards on the Wing. Personnel had concerns related to the completion and timeliness of the testing for potential health hazards. 

My office took this issue for action. I committed to provide an update to Shearwater personnel once I am in possession of the departmental responses and plan moving forward.

Housing Costs

We also heard that housing in Halifax and Shearwater is a significant worry for CAF members. They mentioned that the cost of rent and heating fuel is an issue in older homes, many of which need upgrades. The Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Forces Housing Agency (CFHA) shed some light on its portfolio’s data. The average rent for the fiscal year of 2015-2016 in the Halifax area is $782. Independent analysis indicates that the rents for DND housing in Halifax and Shearwater areas are generally lower than comparable housing in the private sector. Military housing is however fairly old.

Discrepancies in feedback pertaining to housing repairs

There was a noticeable discrepancy in feedback on the timeliness and completeness of repairs from CFHA staff and the CF members and families who live in the houses. In Shearwater, families and members disagreed with the statement from CFHA staff that contractors are very attentive to details.

The Halifax Housing Service Centre (HSC) agrees there are issues with work being performed, and with local contractors. Two factors contribute directly to this issue: (1) occupants are not always reporting issues and (2) the HSC was not following up with owners on overdue work orders.

On this note, the CFHA and the HSC have gained significant momentum to address the above mentioned issues with the following solutions:  (1) The HSC has improved its work order follow-up protocol to ensure that contract repair work is being performed effectively and in a timely fashion. (2) CFHA will develop a communication tool for occupants to help them improve their customer experience by highlighting how to most effectively report and follow-up on maintenance issues and clarify their expectations. This communication tool could also be added to the Ombudsman’s website for occupant reference and ease of accessibility.

CFHA employees deserve credit for managing very old housing stock – some of which rely on seaweed for wall insulation. There are many challenges that require improvement, however, better communication and engagement would go a long way to reducing some of the frustration felt by military families.


I was very impressed with the commitment to Canada and the CF mission shown by those military, civilian and family members I met with in both Halifax and Shearwater. I am eager to follow up on the progress and resolution of the issues our constituents are currently facing in that region of Canada – some of which are common to other bases and locations across the country.

Gary Walbourne

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