The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are feeling the strain of demand as calls to respond to natural disasters increase.
On Tuesday, Maj-Gen. Paul Prévost, a senior officer with the Strategic Joint Staff, addressed the House of Commons committee on National Defense and told MPs the anticipated increase in intensity and frequency of extreme weather events across Canada, as well as the broader changes in the Arctic, may lead to growing demands for military emergency assistance.
“It is best to think of the Canadian Forces as the force of last resort,” Prevost told members of the all-party committee.
He said there has already been increased demand on the Canadian Armed Forces over the last decade to respond to floods, fires and snow storms.
In 2021, the military received seven requests to respond to provincial natural disasters.
That compares to four requests per year between 2017 and 2021. The military received an average of two requests per year from 2010 to 2017.
“In other words, the Canadian Armed Forces involvement in response to natural disasters has broadly doubled every five years since 2010,” Prévost said.
The rising demand comes at a time when the Canadian Armed Forces are going through recruitment challenges.
Prévost said the Forces has 63,871 regular members, 29,247 reservists and 5,241 Canadian Rangers.
“In total, I would say (we’re) 10,000 short on personnel (of) where we would like to be and for that reason (it’s) all hands on deck right now in order to recruit and retain as many CAF members as we can,” Prevost said.
There is approximately 700 Canadian Armed Forces personnel across three provinces, in seven different regions working alongside federal, provincial, territorial and municipal partners to assist Atlantic Canada in the aftermath of post-tropical storm Fiona.
A defence policy revision is expected this fall, which will include information about the Canadian Forces’ response to disasters.
Despite the challenges of fitting in part-time solider work with a full-time job, one reservist said the skills he’s acquired, the places he’s been and people he’s been able to help, have made it all worthwhile.
“I’ve been in the army reserves for 22 years and I joined as an opportunity to develop my leadership skills in a real-world environment and certainly in a demanding environment,” said Lt.-Col. Drew Beauchamp, the commanding officer of the Calgary Highlanders.
“For young folks who are looking for an opportunity to learn leadership and an opportunity to serve their country, there’s no better place than the army reserves,” added Beauchamp who was also part of Queen Elizabeth II’s royal funeral procession in London in September.
Beauchamp said attending the funeral really solidified for him why he entered the CAF, and he hopes it may inspire others to join at a time when they’re needed.
“It’s a reminder that we need to aspire to service beyond ourselves and look for opportunities to make our city, our country and our world a better place,” he said.
“It was important for us to be there due to our special relationship with Her Majesty,” Beauchamp added. “It was also a solemn honour to partake in that slice of history.
“It wasn’t just members of the military — it was members of the National Health Service, the ambulance service and other civilian organizations. As much as she dedicated her life to service, people who have dedicated their life to service were there to celebrate her.”