RCAF members go to great lengths to survive in Cold Lake: report

OTTAWA — Junior members of the military at the air base in Cold Lake have to take second jobs to make ends meet, says a new report from the military ombudsman.

OTTAWA — Junior members of the military at the air base in Cold Lake have to take second jobs to make ends meet, says a new report from the military ombudsman.

Pierre Daigle investigated the sky-high cost of living in the resource-rich region of Alberta after complaints from people posted to 4 Wing, a major jet-fighter base.

“I was surprised,” Daigle said in an interview Tuesday.

Some families are struggling to pay bills by selling off possessions, and go to great lengths to keep their children in extracurricular activities.

The mostly non-commissioned members aren’t trying to get ahead — they need the extra income to survive, said Daigle.

“They are just trying to keep what they have, and what they have built up over their lifetimes,” he said.

The cost of living at Cold Lake has soared in recent years, driven by growth in the local oil-and-gas industry, the report found.

As many as a third of the members of one squadron have had to take second jobs. The investigation also found that some air force members choose to retire rather than accept a posting at the base.

The finding should alarm military brass because it affects operational effectiveness and getting the right people in the jobs, Daigle said.

National Defence needs to grapple with losing highly skilled technicians and senior non-commissioned officers lured to work on oil rigs, says the report.

“You don’t replace those senior folks overnight,” Daigle said.

The problem is no surprise to the town’s mayor, Craig Copeland, who says many businesses in the city depend on the part-time labour pool created by military members.

Copeland suggested the numbers in the ombudsman report may even understate the problem.

“To be honest with you, I thought they were low. Boy, if it wasn’t for the military members, a number of our business people would be really hurting for staff,” he said in an interview.

Daigle says there’s little off-base accommodation available, and rent for military housing at Cold Lake is double that charged at major air bases in Greenwood, N.S., and Bagotville, Que.

He recommends National Defence re-examine a posting allowance that reflects economic conditions around the base.

The Post Living Differential has been a lightning rod for troops since 2009 when changes were suggested that would have used Ottawa as the benchmark for the subsidy.

Soldiers and other military personnel receive a stipend whenever they’re posted in a high-cost area of the country, but the allowance is divided between rural and urban areas.

The net effect is that air force crews and technicians posted in Cold Lake receive 50 per cent less allowance than those in Edmonton, despite the wide cost difference.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the government recognizes the problem and is taking steps to ease the pain. Recently a number of military housing construction projects and renovations were announced for the base.

A rent freeze was also imposed.

“We have already responded to some of the complex malaise of issues affecting Cold Lake,” MacKay said in Ottawa on Tuesday. “We are facing a real shortage of affordable housing there.”

Daigle said much of what National Defence is doing will help in the long term, but families need “immediate relief” and one route should be through an adjustment to the posting allowance.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Attendees of the Downtown Red Deer Market, which runs every Wednesday during the summer on Little Gaetz Avenue, have complained about the lack of public washrooms. (Photo contributed by Red Deer Downtown Business Association)
Portable washrooms to be set up in downtown Red Deer this summer

More data is needed before the city invests in a permanent structure

A survey of 3,083 Red Deer residents was done by an online platform on behalf of the City of Red Deer, generating about 11,607 comments.. (File photo)
Red Deerians speak out about COVID-19 concerns in survey

More than 3,000 city residents were surveyed

A Calgary energy company's request for a tax break was turned down by Lacombe County. About $31,000 was owed by a company that went bankrupt and Silverleaf Resources Inc. bought some of their assets.
(Advocate file photo)
Lacombe County turns down oil company’s tax break request

Silverleaf Resources Inc. hoped for break on $31,000 in back taxes

RCMP recovered hundreds of stolen items, including Bibles and historical items stolen from the Bowden Pioneer Museum.
(Photo from RCMP)
Museum artifacts among hundreds of stolen items recovered by RCMP in central Alberta

Second World War and other historical and religious items recovered

Red Deer dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Kailer Yamamoto (56) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Morgan Rielly (44) reach for the rebound from Leafs goalie Michael Hutchinson (30) during second-period NHL action in Edmonton on Monday, March 1, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Michael Hutchinson earns 31-save shutout, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 3-0

Michael Hutchinson earns 31-save shutout, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 3-0

Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman watches his solo home run during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros Monday, March 1, 2021, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
In-game video returning to baseball for 2021

In-game video returning to baseball for 2021

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu (88) clears the puck in front of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) as Vancouver Canucks' Elias Pettersson (40) looks for the rebound during second-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Monday March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Three first-period goals pace Vancouver Canucks to 4-0 victory over Winnipeg Jets

Three first-period goals pace Vancouver Canucks to 4-0 victory over Winnipeg Jets

Rugby training gear is shown during a Torotno Wolfpack during a practice at Lamport Stadium in Toronto. Bradford, Featherstone, Leigh, London,  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson
Plans announced to create a grassroots Canadian rugby league co-op

Plans announced to create a grassroots Canadian rugby league co-op

Ottawa Senators left wing Brady Tkachuk (7) and centre Chris Tierney (71) get sandwiched between Flames defencemen Rasmus Andersson (4) and Juuso Valimaki (6) during second-period NHL action in Ottawa on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Batherson scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 5-1 win over Calgary Flames

Batherson scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 5-1 win over Calgary Flames

Skiers may be safe from COVID-19, but not those working to keep slopes open: experts

Skiers may be safe from COVID-19, but not those working to keep slopes open: experts

Armas likes what he sees in Toronto FC camp but there are still issues to resolve

Armas likes what he sees in Toronto FC camp but there are still issues to resolve

Team Canada's Jocelyne Larocque celebrates her goal past the U.S.A. with goaltender Embrace Maschmeyer during first period of Women's Rivalry Series hockey action in Vancouver on February 5, 2020. The Canadian women's hockey team opened a camp Monday in Halifax, which is co-hosting the upcoming world championship. Hockey Canada invited 35 players to participate in the seven-day camp closed to the public and media at Scotiabank Centre. The women are training under restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a limit of 25 players on the ice at one time. "They will continue to follow strict COVID-19 testing as per team health and safety protocols that have been detailed and approved by Nova Scotia Public Health," Hockey Canada said Monday in a statement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canadian women’s hockey team preparing for possible May world championship

Canadian women’s hockey team preparing for possible May world championship

Most Read