Canada's new top military leader says fixing 'fragile' morale one of his top priorities

The Canadian Armed Forces’ new and permanent top commander says there will be enormous consequences if the military fails to revamp its culture and restore the morale of its members.

Gen. Wayne Eyre says military must become more inclusive in order to succeed

Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said fundamental, positive changes to military culture will boost morale and help recruitment efforts. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian Armed Forces' new and permanent top commander says there will be enormous consequences if the military fails to revamp its culture and restore the morale of its members.

"If we don't get this right, our ability to deliver operationally for Canada is going to be compromised," said Gen. Wayne Eyre.

"Fixing those aspects of the culture absolutely has to be our top priority."

Eyre made the comments during a Sunday appearance on CBC's Rosemary Barton Live, just days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed him as Canada's permanent chief of the defence staff.

Eyre had held that title on an acting basis since February. He took on the role after his predecessor, Admiral Art McDonald, voluntarily stepped down after learning he was under investigation for sexual misconduct.

Military police later determined there was insufficient evidence to charge McDonald.

Allegations of sexual misconduct have ripped through the force's senior ranks.

Since early February 2021, 11 senior Canadian military leaders — current and former — have been sidelined, investigated or forced into retirement from some of the most powerful and prestigious posts in the defence establishment.

Eyre said fallout from the ongoing misconduct crisis has badly damaged morale.

"To be completely honest, I would assess the state of the Canadian Armed Forces as being fragile," Eyre said. He said the current state of morale is the worst he has experienced since becoming a senior commander.

Lots of initiatives, but 'no silver bullet'

Eyre cited numerous initiatives and ideas that he said could restore trust in the ranks and make the military seem like a more appealing employer to prospective recruits.

Eyre said he wants to see the military adopt a more transparent and thorough process for recruitment and promotion, which could extend to giving subordinates input when leaders are chosen.

Eyre also said changes to the dress code are possible, and suggested "Western European" dress standards may be harming inclusion efforts.

Defence Minister Anita Anand says she working to address the military's misconduct crisis, in part by transferring sexual misconduct cases to civilian courts. (The Canadian Press)

"We no longer recruit from a homogeneous recruiting pool where everybody looks the same, comes from the same backgrounds," he said. "We have to be much more inclusive of all segments of Canadian society."

"There's no silver bullet for culture change."

Eyre also said there is an urgent need to modernize the military justice system.

The federal government recently announced that sexual misconduct cases will be transferred to the civilian justice system. Critics have claimed for years that military police investigators lack the ability to properly investigate soldiers and top leaders.

Eyre wants clarity on military's role in climate disasters

Eyre also pointed a range of external challenges he expects will keep soldiers busy into the foreseeable future.

He said he anticipates the military will play an important role in Canada's efforts to recover from natural disasters caused by climate change. Hundreds of troops were deployed to British Columbia following devastating floods and mudslides caused by heavy rainfall earlier this month.

Eyre said that while the military can help in the wake of natural disasters, he is looking for clarity on how soldiers will be used in those scenarios.

A member of the Canadian Forces slings sandbags while building a temporary dike behind houses on Clayburn Creek near Abbotsford, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"Going forward we need to have a conversation as to what are the expectations of the Canadian Armed Forces as part of the wider disaster management enterprise across government," he said. "So we're absolutely clear on the roles and expectations."

Eyre also addressed growing tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border, where Russian troops are gathering in increasing numbers.

Canada has troops on the ground in Ukraine. Eyre said the military will protect its members in the area, but declined to say how it plans to handle any possible conflict.

"This requires a very diplomatic solution to de-escalate the situation," he said. "We've got to be very careful of crossing the line from deterrence into escalation."

With files from Ashley Burke