Canada isn’t the only Western country facing serious challenges related to military recruitment – but the chief of the defense staff says the problem raises concerns about potential threats to democracy.
In an interview with West BlockMercedes Stephenson, Gen. Wayne Eyre says Canada’s ongoing recruitment and modernization challenges mean the military will be “pressured” to do anything other than deliver on NATO promises – and it’s not alone.
“We are not the only ones facing a people crisis. I’ve had good conversations with Australian, New Zealand, NATO colleagues – it’s a phenomenon in the West – tight work force, not much interest in military service,” said Eyre.
“That worries me about the collective ability to defend democracy at large,” Eyre said. “So we have to do our part. We have to do our part to get our numbers back… I’m concerned, but I’m also concerned about the wider West.
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The Canadian Armed Forces have faced a significant personnel crisis in recent years.
Despite being supposed to add about 5,000 troops to the regular and reserve troops to meet a growing list of demands, the military is instead short of more than 10,000 trained members – meaning around one in 10 positions are currently vacant.
In addition to a shortage of recruits, Canada’s military continues to face long-standing challenges of procuring new equipment, maintaining aging equipment, and tracking down replacement parts.
There are also ongoing questions about whether the federal government will move to contract out the replacement of weapons, equipment and other equipment such as ammunition that the Canadian military has donated in the billions to Ukraine.
While military officials haven’t blamed any issues regarding recruiting and retention issues, Canadian Forces have been shaken in recent years by a sexual misconduct crisis that’s touched even the highest ranks, along with broader concern for systemic racism.
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The reputational issues have been exacerbated by concerns about the presence of right-wing extremists and racism in the ranks, which a review last year said were factors that “turned us away” from new recruits.
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Defense Minister Anita Anand announced last year that overhauling the military’s culture was a top priority.
He also finalized a deal to acquire new F-35 fighter jets, but the first planes will not be delivered until 2026. The full fleet will not achieve operational capability until around 2033.
In last year’s budget, Canada also announced plans to review its defense policy. Speaking during his interview with Stephenson, Eyre said he hoped the review would encourage changes aimed at “improving the foundations of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
“Training, people, equipment, serviceability, ammunition… all aspects that go into readiness, and then looking at the capabilities that we need, the capabilities that we’ve seen from Russia’s war of brutal aggression on Ukraine are increasingly relevant,” Eyre said.
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In addition, Troops need a pay increase – dire, says the chief of defense.
“We urgently need a pay rise for the Canadian Armed Forces. We urgently need to bring in a replacement for our post-life differential,” he said.
“We need our members to not have to worry about their own financial security, not to constantly look over their shoulder, to see if their family should go to the food bank. So, yes, this should be addressed immediately.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to rage on.
Ukraine is located near many NATO allies. If Russia chooses to extend its aggression to neighboring countries and Canada is required to fulfill its promises in the treaty, the issue of preparedness could complicate matters, Eyre said.
“We spend a lot of time focusing on our commitment to NATO, what capabilities we have promised NATO if that happens. So if we do have to respond, we will deliver on that promise, but it will be a challenge,” he said.
“This will be an event that involves many parties.”
Eyre said in the interview he is concerned that as it is today, Canada’s military is not prepared for the challenges ahead as the global security situation continues to “degrade”.
“Do you think you are ready now?” Stephenson asked.
“Right now, for the challenges that lie ahead? No,” said Eyre.
“That’s why it’s so important for us to regroup our strengths, get our numbers back, that we get the capabilities relevant for the future security environment, while at the same time, as we focus on that future part, being able to respond today .”
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