Canadian military members call for update to cost of living allowance frozen since 2009

Feeling stretched financially, some members of the Canadian Armed Forces are calling on their superiors and the federal government to adjust a cost of living allowance that has been frozen since 2009.

It’s called the Post Living Differential, and it’s designed to ensure a consistent standard of living, regardless of where a member of the military is posted around the country.

The PLD was brought in as a recognition that the cost of living differs depending on where you live. For example, if a soldier is posted in Vancouver, they get an extra $1,083 per month. In contrast, if a soldier is based in Aldergrove, it’s $418. In Chilliwack, there is nothing paid under this allowance.

For members of the military, who are paid a modest $35,820 on the lower end of the scale, Canadian Armed Forces members speaking to CityNews on condition of anonymity say these allowances are crucial. In the context of rapidly rising inflation, which all of us are experiencing, these military members say addressing this is even more urgent.

Rising expenses

They point out there are two key issues. One, the dollar amount of this allowance hasn’t increased since 2009. And two, in some of these places where the PLD is low or does not apply, the cost of living environment has changed significantly over the course of 13 years.

One CAF member, who served two tours in Afghanistan, tells CityNews that they have a young family and plan to transition to policing — in part over the compensation on offer.

“We’re coming to a sad realization, as different a part of society as we are, we’re all feeling the pressure all the same,” said the soldier. “The inflation costs, the housing market skyrocketing and everything — it’s got to have a negative impact, and it has for me specifically.”

That military member said given how tight it is financially for new officers, better efforts also need to be made in the area of financial literacy for new recruits.

Another member of the forces, who also served in Afghanistan, said they have come very close to leaving, but ultimately have decided to stick it out.

“It’s very frustrating,” said this soldier. “If we didn’t have family in the area [they are posted], then I possibly would have released. But I do have family support, and I couldn’t leave my career to go find another job. And it’s a career that I like, so it was a hard decision to make, but I just had to go with it.”

Current model unchanged for 13 years

During interviews with these military members, the disappointment over the fact the PLD has not changed since 2009 and has been under review for years was clear.

“The military knows that there’s as problem with this,” said one soldier. “[Some military members] are being demolished financially. It’s very uneven.”

It’s been a longtime concern, and it needs to be addressed, in the view of Gary Walbourne, the former ombudsperson for the Canadian Armed Forces.

“While I was in situ as the ombudsperson, every year there was a new treasury board submission being made, and it was going to be presented to treasury board, and it would get to treasury board, and then there would be a number of questions, then it would kind of die on the vine,” Walbourne told CityNews in an interview. “That’s happened repeatedly over the last 10 years, and here we find ourselves yet again, and I understand that there is currently another treasury board submission being worked upon. Where it will go, I have no guess at all…I’m disappointed it hasn’t moved much faster than this.”

In terms of where things stand right now, the Department of National Defence tells CityNews in a statement, “[t]he CAF is currently engaged with Treasury Board Secretariat to develop a methodology that addresses areas of concern such as PLD, given present economic realities. We will always seek to support our members with a robust compensation and benefits framework.”

After years without an increase to this allowance, for some members — especially those with families — they feel they’ve waited long enough.

“I have newly trained privates, and their income is extremely, extremely low,” said one forces member. “They’re being forced to live here in an area where they can’t afford. Their credit cards are going up. The military isn’t supporting them enough.”

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