Early retirements and weak recruitment has the Canadian military facing a shortfall of personnel
Lee Berthiaume, Postmedia News
Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014
Canadian Armed Forces CF-188 Fighter jets arrive at the Canadian Air Task Force Flight Operations Area in Kuwait on October 28, 2014 in support of Operation IMPACT. Canadian Forces Combat Camera
The Canadian Forces is short hundreds of full-time members and thousands of reservists, due in part to an unexpected spike in the number of personnel hanging up their uniforms and difficulties attracting and training new recruits.
The shortfall, expected to last years thanks to recent cuts to military recruitment and training, threatens to undermine the Conservative government’s longstanding promise not to cut the size of the military despite billions of dollars in spending reductions since 2012.
The federal Conservative government has publicly promised to keep 68,000 full-time military members and 27,000 reservists in uniform, even as defence spending has fallen by about $5.5 billion since 2012.
The pledge was part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s demand that the Canadian Forces provide “more teeth and less tail,” though some believed the promise was more about politics than protecting the military.
But a Defence Department report recently tabled in the House of Commons showed a shortfall of nearly 900 regular force members and 4,500 part-time reservists at the end of March “due to higher than forecasted attrition and other factors.”
The report doesn’t provide any explanation for why military personnel were leaving at an unexpected rate, but it does note the Canadian Army has been hit particularly hard.
Senior military officers, including former army commander lieutenant-general Peter Devlin, had previously warned that the Afghan mission’s end, as well as deep cuts to training, would prompt many soldiers to head for the exit.
The army’s failure to meet its recruitment goals further contributed to the shortfall. Officials have previously said the military needs more than 4,000 new recruits each year to offset attrition and keep 68,000 full-time troops in uniform.
Meanwhile, the report notes recent changes to the reserve force have contributed to fewer part-time members in uniform. But recruiters for the air and navy reserves also had a hard time getting new recruits through the door for the third year in a row.
The naval reserve only met 21.3 per cent of its recruitment target over the year, and the air reserves met 9.1 per cent, though the air reserve did have some personnel come in from other parts of the military.
“Maintaining the personnel capabilities of a large organization such as the
Canadian Armed Forces requires a constant balance of recruiting new members and retaining trained personnel,” said Defence Department spokesman Zoltan Csepregi.
“The CAF experiences changes in the rate of attrition, or departures, from one year to the next,” he added. “CAF strength will be closely monitored to ensure that the CAF meets its domestic and international defence commitments as assigned by the Government of Canada.”
The Conservative government has been sensitive to reducing the size of the military after criticizing previous Liberal governments for doing exactly that in the 1990s. (The total number of personnel declined by one-third from a high of 120,000 in 1991 to a low of 80,000 in 2001.)
But as part of its efforts to cut costs, the government ordered 12 military recruiting centres across the country closed last year, which auditors had privately warned would hurt reserve units as well as aboriginal recruitment.
Those warnings appear to have been borne out, as the new report notes that “given recruiting and training capacity, it will take some years to recover” from the current shortfall. It adds that the military will try to “limit voluntary attrition” and address the shortfall “as soon as practical.”
David Perry, a defence analyst with the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, believed defence spending reductions are at the heart of the problem.
Cuts to military training and operations are driving people out faster, he said, while the government has axed the recruiting system so it can’t keep up with higher than expected attrition.
Some have questioned the wisdom of maintaining the military at its current size given budget cuts of up to $2.5 billion and with the last Canadian soldiers due to return home from Afghanistan by the end of March.
One former defence chief, retired general Rick Hillier, warned last year that reducing the size of the military was the only way to ensure the force remained strong and stable. He said the number of full-time members should be reduced from 68,000 to about 50,000.
Meanwhile, the report says the Canadian military is hoping a recent spike in the number of Canadian personnel taken off the job to deal with physical and mental injuries will subside in the next few years.
More than 1,400 Canadian Forces members, or about two per cent of the regular force, had been deemed seriously ill or injured and taken off the job at the end of March. That is about double the number from 2011, but largely the same as last year.
Officials have blamed “lag effects” from the Afghan mission for the increase.