Recruitment issues continue to plague the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as demand for their services continues to increase at home, the national defence minister says.
Anita Anand made the comments on Wednesday during a news conference after stating roughly 600 CAF members are in Atlantic Canada to help the provinces affected by post-tropical storm Fiona. More troops are expected to arrive in the area in the coming days.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the CAF has responded to more than 100 requests for assistance at home, Anand said.
“You can see first and foremost the extent to which the Canadian Armed Forces are being called upon and relied upon is increasing,” she said.
“At the same time, our ability to co-ordinate with provincial and local organizations is becoming increasingly effective and efficient, and at this time the system is working well.”
Anand’s response was to a question about whether Canada needs a dedicated body, like the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the National Guard, both of which are preparing for the impact of hurricane Ian in Florida this week.
Both organizations have resources dedicated to responding to crises at home. While Anand said Canada’s current system is “working well,” she acknowledged the challenges the CAF has faced in recruiting new members.
“We need to grow as an institution, and we do have the tools in place to continue to do that but is going to take time.… We have a leadership team that is fully committed to creating a Canadian Armed Forces where everyone feels safe, respected and protected,” she said.
“This is going to take time, and we are building the institution so we can continue to sustain Canada, both domestically and internationally, in the various operations that confront our country.”
Controversy has surrounded the CAF as of late due to allegations of misconduct against top officers and concerns about a growing disconnect between the military’s makeup and Canadian society as a whole, prompting a push for greater diversity in the ranks.
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Canada’s military should be in a period of growth right now as new demands increase the need for trained soldiers, sailors and aviators. In 2017, Ottawa put out a plan to add thousands of full- and part-time positions.
While the plan came after years of troop shortages, there were signs the military was turning a corner as recruitment began to outpace departures.
But then the pandemic hit, Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who oversees military recruitment and training, told The Canadian Press earlier this week.
Recruitment dropped during the first year of COVID-19 as the military shuttered recruiting and training centres. Only 2,000 people were enrolled in 2020-21 — less than half of what was needed.
At the same time, demand for its services at home increased with various provinces calling on the CAF for COVID-19 medical assistance in hospitals and long-term care homes. Over the last two years, the armed forces have responded to multiple crises at home such as the 2021 floods and wildfires in British Columbia, last year’s tainted-water crisis in Iqaluit, Nvt., and the November flooding in Port-aux-Basques, N.L.
Port-aux-Basques was severely hit by Fiona, with more troops expected in the region and in Truro, N.S., Anand said. CAF personnel have been involved in conducting wellness checks, removing debris and restoring power as part of their duties to help the communities recover following the storm’s destruction this past weekend.
Right now, Brodie said the military is getting about half the number of applicants it needs per month to meet the goal of adding 5,900 members this year. The shortfall is expected to worsen the current personnel shortage, with about one in 10 of the military’s 100,000 positions unfilled.
Many industries are facing labour challenges, and Statistics Canada reported record job vacancies in June. But COVID-19 and the workforce shortage have coincided with what Brodie describes as a “cultural reckoning” for the military.
Anand said Wednesday that the CAF continues to introduce new recruitment strategies and recruitment centres across the country to encourage more Canadians to join its ranks.
However, she cautioned the structural changes needed within the forces won’t happen overnight.
“Make no mistake, there is a growing period that needs to occur,” she said.
“At the same time, we will never hesitate to protect Canadians when called upon.”
— with files from The Canadian Press