Message from the Ombudsman - October 16, 2014

Ombudsman finds several concerns at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright

In November 2013, my predecessor and Ombudsman staff visited Wainwright Garrison in Alberta, where they met with hundreds of military personnel, civilian employees, caregivers and military family members.

During the visit, several concerns were raised, many of which were consistent with issues raised in other, more isolated, bases and wings across the country.

Concerns with Post Living Differential (PLD) and Land Duty Allowance (LDA) were raised during all of the town halls. Members expressed dissatisfaction with not being entitled to receive PLD when the general perception is that the cost of living and price for basic necessities is higher in the Wainwright area than Edmonton, where members are entitled to receive the allowance. Many members also pointed out that the loss of the LDA benefit, upon being posted to Wainwright, has negatively impacted their finances. For example, one individual indicated that his annual income dropped by $13,000 dollars with the loss of the PLD and LDA.

Ombudsman staff found that housing - both dwellings managed by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency (CFHA) and those for sale or rent in the economy - is a concern for Canadian Forces members and their families in Wainwright. Members specified an insufficient number of available CFHA-maintained units, aging inventory, and a lack of available tradespersons to carry out even the most basic repairs. Furthermore, the private housing market is largely unattainable for many due to the oil industry employment boom, which has impacted the rental and housing markets, often driving up prices.

Access to health care was cited as a challenge for military families during all of the town halls conducted in Wainwright. In spite of the province waiving the 90-day waiting period for provincial health coverage, some are still being made to pay up front to receive health care services. A lack of available physicians and specialists accepting new patients was also a serious concern, as was the access to Francophone medical services. My predecessor heard that some families will visit the emergency department of the hospital if they need to consult a physician, while others will drive long distances, especially to see a specialist.

Many Canadian Forces members indicated that they must take time off from work in order to take family members to medical appointments outside of Wainwright, costing them time and money. However, the Ombudsman team was pleased to learn that military medical officers host a walk-in clinic in the city of Wainwright on select evenings. 

Further concerns were raised regarding the members of the Personnel Awaiting Training (PAT) Platoon. Some of these individuals are married and are sent to Wainwright on Imposed Restriction (IR) – when members are forced to move away from their family for a short period of time – for training.  However, investigators were told that some members, especially those in specialized trades, can wait up to nine months before their course begins, which can affect the morale of personnel. Some also noted that the elimination of the food allowance while separated from family is having a negative financial impact on members of the PAT Platoon.

During all of the town halls, participants raised limited child care options and opportunities for spousal employment as major impediments to financial stability in the Wainwright area. Many members also spoke of the facility that houses the Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) as being inadequate to accommodate the demands for daycare spots – they are currently able to offer less than 20 spots and there is a waitlist – as well as the summer camp, which sees in excess of 100 registrations due to a lack of other suitable alternatives in the area. It was noted that because of the lack of space, they have to stop all other programs (less the daycare) while the summer camp is running, including casual child care services.

In terms of employment opportunities for military spouses, the few jobs available in the area tend to pay low wages. Ombudsman staff were told that many spouses do not find a job in their chosen career. They also heard that many spouses do not work because the cost of child care is higher than the wages the spouse would receive. The lack of public transit also makes it difficult for spouses to seek work and to get to work, as most families only have one vehicle. This results in some spouses feeling isolated.

Finally, the Gym facilities at Wainwright Garrison were singled out by members as a major source of frustration. The facilities are dated, of poor quality and are unable to accommodate the many users in instances of inclement weather. Further, the hours of operation are inconvenient.

The issues raised during the outreach visit to Wainwright Garrison are largely consistent with those found during our investigations into Forces Base Cold Lake in July 2013 and the challenges facing military families in November 2013.

Wainwright, like Cold Lake, is heavily impacted by the growth of the oil sector. The cost of living is high and families currently receive no Post Living Differential to help offset these extra costs. Child care and spousal employment challenges at the Garrison are sources of huge frustration in the Defence community.

In light of these challenges, we encourage anyone with similar concerns to contact our office. We stand ready to help.

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