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‘Things are hard’: Navy sails into cost of living crisis at CFB Esquimalt

There are about 8,000 service members at CFB Esquimalt
A Navy ship returns to CFB Esquimalt after a two-and-a-half month deployment in a multi-nation narcotics-combatting operation off of Central America. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

A cost of living crisis is having a serious impact on sailors, officers and civilian workers stationed at CFB Esquimalt, according to a Canadian Armed Forces spokesperson.

Their members, like many other Canadians in Greater Victoria, have struggled to find affordable housing, said Lt.-Col. Nicole Meszaros, chief military personnel public affairs officer, in a statement to Black Press Media.

“It is hard to ignore that for some of our members, frequent postings or postings to more expensive Canadian geographical locations make home purchasing or renting a challenging matter,” said Meszaros.

The crisis has affected the morale of Canadian Armed Forces members, and some are considering leaving because of the difficulty, she said.

There are about 8,000 service members at CFB Esquimalt working in different areas on the base, with about 15 per cent of these members living on the base.

“The base has basic singles quarters that are intended for training and operational requirements and not long-term residency,” Meszaros said. “The base does extend the usage of singles quarters to members unable to find accommodations after training.”

An acting sub-lieutenant who has just completed their training will be eligible for between $4,411 and $6,131 a month, while a second-class sailor will receive $4,316 per month, according to Meszaros.

There is an additional $800 per month bonus that the Navy can provide its members once they complete basic training, she said.

It has been an era of change for the Canadian Navy, she said, and that there is some angst amongst service members about how they are compensated.

“Nobody is disputing that things are hard. At the same time, there is a changing culture in the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Meszaros said that taking care of their people is a top priority for the military, and members can access pensions, health, dental, and financial benefits, which not every Canadian has access to.

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

Conversations around the cost of living and hardship are becoming more frequent and openly discussed on bases like CFB Esquimalt, and that’s a good thing, said Meszaros.

“When people are comfortable talking about difficult situations and topics, better understanding and cooperation often result,” Meszaros said. “The biggest lesson the Canadian Armed Forces has learned over the years is to pay attention to what our members are going through and adjust where necessary.”

The special challenge that faces the Navy is they recruit people from across Canada and then move them to two places in the country that have the highest housing cost as well as low vacancy rates, she said.

The Canadian Armed Forces has introduced a new policy called Canadian Forces Housing Differential. It aims to provide additional housing assistance to service members and their families in need.

“Our salaries as Canadian Armed Forces members are reasonable, and Canadian Forces Housing Differential help alleviate the increasing costs of living in areas like Victoria, but they don’t solve the entire problem.”