Canada’s military facing ‘death spiral’ on recruitment, minister says

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The Canadian Forces is facing “a death spiral” when it comes to recruitment, even as the government is “constrained” on more defence spending, Defence Minister Bill Blair says.

Blair made those remarks after speaking to a crowd attending the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence on Thursday, though stressed the government’s commitment to spend more on defence.

“If what you have been doing for decades is no longer working for you, you can’t just keep doing it,” he told Global News parliamentary bureau chief and The West Block host Mercedes Stephenson, who moderated a question-and-answer period with Blair.

“Over the past three years, more people have left than have entered. That is, frankly, a death spiral for the Canadian Armed Forces. We cannot afford to continue at that pace. We’ve got to do something differently.”

At the same time, Blair said calls to boost defence spending face challenges.

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“We’re also constrained a little bit in our ability to make those dollar commitments by the current fiscal environment,” Blair said.

“The facts are before us, but at the same time, we have to spend more on defence.”

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Spending Reductions to Canada’s National Defence Department

Blair’s comments come as NATO allies push Canada to meet the military alliance’s request for defence spending to be at least two per cent of GDP, and ahead of the federal budget set to come April 16.

When announcing the budget date this week, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland gave an idea of what challenges the government wants to address.

“Our economic plan is about building more homes, faster, making life more affordable, and creating more good jobs,” she said.

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“This plan will unlock pathways to a good middle class life for the next generation — because Canada is stronger when everyone has an equal chance to succeed. Together, we are going to unlock and build a brighter, more prosperous future.”

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Freeland says ‘being there’ to support Ukraine matters amid defence spending scrutiny

Internal government polling obtained by Global News last year found barely one in four believe the government should reduce overall spending, and it showed strong support — 42.5 per cent — to increase spending on housing, even if that means rising deficits.

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The results also showed strong approval for boosting income support programs for low-income Canadians with disabilities, as well as for the national dental care program, a key demand of the supply-and-confidence agreement that the NDP signed with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government.

However, even though the country’s military leaders have been loudly warning that the Canadian Forces do not have adequate equipment or personnel, the polling showed there are low levels of support for increasing defence spending.

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Trudeau defends Canada’s NATO defence spending, Ukraine war aid

Blair reiterated Thursday the government will meet NATO’s two per cent target, as well as Ottawa’s contributions to defence spending in policies such as “Strong, Secure, Engaged” and Canada’s NORAD Modernization Plan.

“The timelines for that will be dictated by the availability … of the funds to do that, but we know what needs to be done,” he said.

“The first responsibility of any government is the national defence of its country, and we simply have to do more in defending Canada’s interests around the world because the nature of warfare is changing,” he added.

“Our potential hostile adversaries are investing in capabilities to threaten us, and the best way to respond to that risk is to be prepared and to build resilience and preparedness. As I said, increased production is deterrence, being prepared is deterrence.”

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At a separate event in Toronto, Trudeau reiterated his government’s contributions to defence spending.

“We have steadily increased military funding with a plan to increase spending by 70 per cent,” he said.

“We’re continuing to step up, including with the modernization of NORAD … with real investments that are going to keep Canadians safe, and ensure that the women and men of the Canadian Forces have the equipment that they need.”

What needs to change on recruitment?


The Canadian Armed Forces has been facing a recruitment shortage and lengthy delays in procurement of new equipment for years, which experts say have reduced Canada’s military readiness.

The recruitment challenges come after exclusive reporting from Global News that began in early 2021, detailing what experts call the “crisis” of sexual misconduct in the military.

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Defence minister says plan for ‘significant’ military investments in talks

The reputational problem has been compounded by concerns about the presence of right-wing extremists and racism in the ranks, which a review said last year were factors “repulsing” new recruits.

Blair said he asked military leaders to take a “hard look” on expanding eligibility for recruitment.

“Abolish outdated medical requirements where they are not meaningful and relevant, create a probationary period to enroll new members, especially permanent residents, and streamline the security clearances process,” he said.

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