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CFB Esquimalt spouses decry families effectively seeing pay cuts with new structure

Long-awaited replacement aims to help lower ranks afford housing
Spouses of CFB Esquimalt are calling out a new pay structure that takes away monthly help for any expense other than housing and targets to mainly benefit the lower ranks. Pictured is Rear-Admiral Bill Truelove presiding over the changing of command from Commodore Bob Auchterlonie to Captain (Navy) Jeffery Zwick CFB Esquimalt on board the HMCS Calgary, in Esquimalt B.C., on June 24, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

CFB Esquimalt military families are discouraged by pay structure changes announced this week for the Canadian Armed Forces that are meant to solely support high housing costs.

While the measure is seen as a way to support those lower in the ranks and be an incentive for new members amid the military’s recruitment struggles, CFB Esquimalt families say the change is effectively a pay cut during already tough financial times.

“The first reaction was panic,” said Kay Judas, an administrator of a Greater Victoria military spouse group.

Military families are dependent on monthly payments through the Post Living Differential (PLD) policy, Judas said. That program also helped with offsetting the costs of things like housing, fuel, groceries and childcare.

The military on March 21 said it was going through with a long-awaited replacement of the PLD with the Canadian Forces Housing Differential (CFHD) on July 1. That new system only supports housing by keeping rent and mortgage costs of military housing to 25 per cent of a family’s gross monthly income.

The Department of National Defence says CAF salaries have largely enabled them to afford housing in most posting locations. The new program is tied to a member’s wages and the housing costs in their place of duty, and will be adjusted annually unlike PLD.

“It is crucial to understand that CFHD prioritizes those who require assistance the most in order that all CAF members are able to afford housing, regardless of where they are posted,” Brigadier-General Virginia Tattersall, CAF director general of compensation and benefits, said in announcing the change.

The move hopes to help lower-ranked members struggling with housing costs as it’s tiered so that those in smaller income brackets get more. The DND also noted that some military communities across Canada – like Comox – were ineligible for PLD.

“We recognize that the replacement of PLD with CFHD may take some time to adjust to, both mentally and financially,” Tattersall said. “Given the implications on your personal circumstances, it is important for you to also note that the CAF will also see an economic increase – or pay raise – which you will see on your mid-July pay.”

But those raises are not in line with inflation, Judas said, and after they’re set to lose roughly $430 in PLD funds every month, it would likely be years until their family breaks even through the pay increases.

“The military is notorious for not caring about the impact of its decisions on families,” Judas said, noting the Greater Victoria base is also now seeing members on the verge of homelessness.

Judas is also concerned the new structure will disproportionately impact Navy families as members lose the CFHD benefit after staying in the same place for seven years. While that’s common for a Navy member, it’s unlikely other CAF branches would remain at one posting for more than six years.

She also questions how the new system will help beleaguered military recruitment levels as the CFHD benefit significantly drops off after a few promotions that typically come in the first three years of service.

A DND chart shows an Esquimalt member’s 2023 CFHD amount would fall from $1,850 for the first pay level to $1,050 by the third.

As of Friday, the group of CFB Esquimalt partners was working on organizing a protest over the pay changes as they want their voices heard, despite Judas saying the military has been intimidating for spouses looking to speak out.

“I’m proud of them for being strong enough and wanting to do this.”

READ: New recruits at CFB Esquimalt struggle to find housing after training completed

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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