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Military recruiting issues may be ‘more serious’ than senior ranks letting on: Hillier

Click to play video: 'Military chief can’t fix recruitment crisis alone, says Canada’s former top soldier'
Military chief can’t fix recruitment crisis alone, says Canada’s former top soldier
WATCH: Military chief can’t fix recruitment crisis alone, says Canada’s former top soldier – Oct 23, 2022

As the Canadian Armed Forces grapples with how to boost recruitment amid growing global dangers, a former chief of the defence staff is warning that the situation might be even worse than the top brass are letting on.

Current Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre has warned in recent weeks that, due to recruitment issues, Canada does not have the military “that we need” to tackle future threats — and that readiness within the CAF is “going down.”

“In reality, I believe the case is much more serious than what Wayne has articulated,” said retired Gen. Rick Hillier, speaking in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.

Read more: Military needs help from Canadians amid personnel crisis: defence chief

The Canadian Armed Forces is supposed to be adding about 5,000 troops to regular and reserve forces, to meet a growing list of demands, but are instead short more than 10,000 trained members – meaning about one in 10 positions are currently vacant.

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However, Hillier says the number that he’s hearing suggest the military is down “far greater than 10 per cent.”

“Instead of being at 70,000 people, the Canadian Forces are operating probably somewhere at about 45,000 people — and out of that, there are a significant percentage of them who are not operationally deployable or capable,” Hillier said.

“So the capability of the Canadian Forces, what we rely upon to look after us in Canada and then to represent us and protect our interests around the world and to take our values with them, that part that can do that is minuscule right now, and we need to change it.”

Click to play video: 'Military recruitment challenges persist as domestic demand increases: defence minister'
Military recruitment challenges persist as domestic demand increases: defence minister

While military officials aren’t placing blame on any single issue with respect to the recruitment problems, the Canadian Forces have been shaken in recent years by a sexual misconduct crisis that touched even the highest ranks in the armed forces, along with wider attention on systemic racism.

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The reputational problem has been compounded by concerns about the presence of right-wing extremists in the ranks. Location is proving to be an issue as well — most CAF bases and wings are in rural areas, while the majority of Canadians live in cities.

Read more: Widespread systemic racism in Canadian military ‘repulsing’ new recruits: report

Earlier this month, the defence chief issued an order setting a new direction for the military after years of high-tempo deployments and operations, making recruitment and retention of personnel its top priority.

“We need to rebuild the Armed Forces, we need to get the numbers back up,” Eyre said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “And we’ve got to do it with a sense of urgency and priority because it is affecting our ability to respond around the world.”

Read more: Canadian military faces shortage of recruits: `We are in an applicant crisis’

The shift away from deployments and towards beefing up recruitment efforts could be part of the problem when it comes to attracting new enlisters, Hillier said, in addition to more high-profile support.

“If anybody thinks that Wayne Eyre, for all his ability, is going to fix this problem, then they are mistaken. They are wrong. He cannot fix this alone,” Hillier said.

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“We need a Prime Minister who is going to show support for the Canadian Forces visibly.”

“You need that kind of visible support. You need dollars (going) into the continuing forces, and you need a full up, active, number-one-priority mission to recruit young Canadians to come and serve our nation in uniform.”

Until the recruitment issue is addressed, the Canadian Forces will continue to be “in a huge amount of trouble,” he warned.

From Canada’s ability to respond to domestic emergencies, such as the recent hurricane that battered the east coast, to the country’s ability to respond to global challenges through NATO or the United Nations, Hillier said the CAF is falling short.

“Our ability to do that goes down to almost zero — and that’s not good for a nation that’s a G7 nation,” he said.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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