Military personnel shortage will get worse before it gets better, top soldier says

The country's top military commander said Thursday that the Canadian Armed Forces' (CAF) problems with recruiting and retaining soldiers, sailors and air crew are going are get worse before they get better.

Gen. Wayne Eyre has issued a directive to halt non-essential operations, focus on recruitment, retention

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre has issued a sweeping directive aimed at bringing the Canadian Armed Forces back to full strength. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The country's top military commander said Thursday that the Canadian Armed Forces' (CAF) problems with recruiting and retaining soldiers, sailors and air crew are going are get worse before they get better.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre issued a sweeping directive Thursday morning for what he described as the "reconstitution" of the CAF.

"The CAF will experience higher than normal attrition and lower than normal recruiting unless appropriate professional culture and personnel management modifications are implemented," the directive said. "As a result, CAF effective strength will likely continue to shrink over the very short term."

The directive blames many of the issues the military is facing — including a shortfall of up to 10,000 regular force members — on the COVID-19 pandemic, which constrained the the military's ability to recruit.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated pre-existing shortfalls in the CAF strategic intake of new members and has severely impacted the organization's ability to deliver professional and collective training," the directive said.

'I am very, very worried'

The shortage of personnel is undermining the military's ability to train and prepare for international and domestic emergencies — everything from the war in Ukraine to disaster relief at home.

"I am very, very worried about our numbers," Eyre told the House of Commons committee on public safety and national security, which is studying Canada's security posture as it relates to Russia.

"I am concerned as the threats to the world security situation increase, as the threats at home increase, our readiness is going down within the Canadian Armed Forces."

"The military we have today is not the one we need for the future."

Eyre told MPs the military is "embarking on a priority effort to get our numbers back up" by, among other things, allowing permanent resident immigrants to apply to join the force.

But keeping people in uniform is another goal of the directive — which would lead to an overhaul of the military's personnel command.

The directive said the most critical shortage the military faces is among mid-level non-commissioned officers such as sergeants — the people CAF sees as the backbone of the force in terms of experience and training.

Eyre's plan estimates that the military will be in what could be described as a recovery phase over the next three years. The plan's goal is to grow the CAF to its authorized strength of nearly 71,500 full-time members and 30,000 reservists. 

The directive said implementing culture change throughout CAF remains the No. 1 priority and is key to recruiting fresh troops, sailors and aircrew.

WATCH: Military in high demand for domestic emergency operations

Demand for CAF in domestic operations rising as more troops deployed to Fiona-hit areas

4 months ago
Duration 9:19
Rosemary Barton Live speaks with Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada's chief of the defence staff, about the Canadian Armed Forces' efforts in Quebec and Atlantic Canada following post-tropical storm Fiona. Eyre says the domestic demand for the military has been increasing, making him concerned about its 'overall readiness' and ability to 'respond at scale and at speed required.'

The Liberal government has embarked on a review of its existing defence policy in response to the war in Ukraine. Some organizational changes in Eyre's plan are awaiting the results of that review before moving forward.

Both Eyre and Defence Minister Anita Anand have warned that some tasks and missions carried out by the military now will have to be changed or even abandoned.

The plan released Thursday does not commit to wholesale changes. It does direct the military to determine which tasks can be handed over to the civilian side of the Department of National Defence.

One area the military could "civilianize/contract out" involves "administrative elements of recruiting functions provided at CAF recruiting centres," said the directive.

Eyre also has ordered that ceremonial tasks "be temporarily reduced or cancelled" to allow the military to focus on the rebuilding effort. There are several marching bands within the military and the directive orders them to "consolidate/amalgamate" where possible and "reinvest" the savings in the reconstitution efforts.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.


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