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Canadian military facing a recruitment crisis – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

The Canadian Armed Forces is sounding the alarm over a severe shortage of recruits to fill thousands of vacant positions, with the shortfall so bad that senior officers are now calling it a crisis.

On a cool Tuesday afternoon, Robert Romero walks out of the Canadian Armed Forces’ recruiting office in downtown Ottawa with an envelope full of papers in his hands.

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Originally from the Philippines, Romero does not have any direct experience with Canada’s military; his interest is largely derived from a sense of adventure and some of what he saw about soldiers in movies as a kid.

“I idolized them,” he says. “I got hooked. So then I started researching about it and I got more into it.”

Romero is one of 11 people who have just written an aptitude test to identify which military occupations prospective recruits are qualified to fill. He pulls his results from the envelope: intelligence officer, meteorological technician and cook.

He will now talk it over with his parents to decide which career interests him, whether he wants to write the test again or abandon the whole exercise.

Canada’s military is supposed to be in a period of growth as new demands increase the need for trained soldiers, sailors and aviators. The Liberal government in 2017 laid 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.

“We were just starting to gain momentum when the pandemic hit,” says Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who is responsible for overseeing military recruitment and training.

Recruitment cratered during the first year of COVID-19 as the military shuttered recruiting and training centres. The result: only 2,000 people were enrolled in 2020-21 — less than half of what was needed.

Nearly 4,800 recruits were enrolled the following fiscal year as lockdowns and restrictions were eased.

But Brodie says 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 exacerbate the current personnel shortage, with about one in 10 of the military’s 100,000 positions unfilled.

“We are without a doubt in an applicant crisis right now,” Brodie says.

Many industries are facing labour challenges, and Statistics Canada reported record job vacancies in June. But the pandemic and labour shortage have coincided with what Brodie describes as a “cultural reckoning” for the military.

That has been marked by allegations of misconduct against top officers and concerns about a growing disconnect between the military’s makeup and Canadian society as a whole, leading to a push for greater diversity in the ranks.

Those efforts include targeted recruiting of under-represented groups, including women and Indigenous people, and broader moves to create a more inclusive workplace by easing dress rules, which Brodie suggests are bearing fruit.

Still, fewer Canadians are opting for a military career and it is not fully clear why.

“I don’t think we’ve got a good answer anywhere. I think there are so many factors and components and dimensions of the why,” Brodie says.

The Defence Department is trying to better understand the problem, she added. It is also looking at possible solutions such as financial incentives, ways to improve work-life balance, and addressing public perceptions of the military.

Brodie was unable to say whether the push for diversity is hurting more than helping, at least in terms of sheer numbers, by turning off the military’s traditional recruiting pool: young, white men.

“We can’t measure the impact of that right now. It’s too early,” she said. “But to be very, very clear — we want suitable candidates, and suitable candidates are those that first and foremost reflect the values of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The impact of not having enough new recruits is both short- and long-term, putting additional pressure on current members and meaning there are fewer people who can rise through the ranks and fill leadership roles later.

The shortfall isn’t uniform across the military. Certain occupations have more than enough applicants. But some are facing such severe shortages that signing bonuses of up to $20,000 are being offered in 25 of the military’s approximately 100 trades, including cook, meteorological technician and many navy jobs.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Clark is senior recruiter in Ottawa. In recent weeks, his staff have been at different events such as the Gatineau Airshow and a comic book convention to make their pitch.

“We’re selling the benefits of being in the Canadian Armed Forces,” he says. “The pension, the medical, the dental, the education piece, continuing education, as well as a pretty interesting career where you get to travel around the world, potentially, and get paid to do it.”

Recruiters are given targets to meet, with spots divvied up by trade, as well as minimum targets for female recruits and maximums for men. There is also a high-level push for what the military still refers to as “visible minorities” and Indigenous people.

“Diversity is what we’re after,” Clark says.

Ottawa is unusual in that it is close to meeting its recruiting targets, which Clark attributes to the large number of military families in the capital. But many other places are not, including traditional military communities.

“We’re really seeing even places like Kingston that used to have a huge population of applicants, we’re seeing the well drying out,” says Maj. Simon Rocheleau, who is responsible for managing recruiting efforts across northern and eastern Ontario.

Rocheleau has a number of theories to explain the situation, including the state of the economy, the lack of a major mission like Afghanistan to drive awareness, and concerns about sexual misconduct.

Outside the Ottawa recruiting centre, Jeremy Langlois has just finished the aptitude test. The 21-year-old chef wants to fly jets, but didn’t score high enough. He will take the test again in 30 days in the hopes of qualifying.

“If that doesn’t work out, well, then I’ll have to re-evaluate and think about stuff,” he says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

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COVID vaccines: Canada fell short at limiting wastage, AG says – CTV News

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While the federal government was successful in procuring COVID-19 vaccines amid an urgent pandemic situation, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) fell short when it came to minimizing the number of doses wasted, according to Canada’s auditor general.

In an audit of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement, tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Karen Hogan found that while federal departments “secured COVID-19 vaccine doses so that everyone in Canada who chose to be vaccinated could be,” once the vaccines arrived the systems to keep track of them were lacking.

Hogan’s performance audit focused on assessing the job Public Services and Procurement Canada did in procuring vaccines, and how the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada did in keeping track of the inventory as well as seeing the vaccines delivered across the country and later donated globally.

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The audit found that PSPC’s “efficient” work—led by then-procurement minister Anita Anand—and the decision to sign advance purchase agreements with seven COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers ensured that Canada would have enough doses to meet the demand. However, Hogan noted that this approach came with the risk of Canada having a surplus of doses.

As this played out in realtime, and six of the seven potential vaccines were authorized for use in Canada, the federal government paid for 169 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines between December 2020—when Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine authorization and immunization rollout began—and May 2022.

Of those, the federal government administered more than 84 million doses across the country.

That left 85 million COVID-19 vaccine doses unused, 50.6 million of which the audit found were deemed surplus and offered for donation. However, just 15.3 million doses have been given to other countries while 13.6 million expired before they could be donated.

That meant that as of the end of May, Canada had 32.5 million doses—worth an estimated $1 billion—sitting in inventories across the country. The report flags that the majority of these shots are set to expire by the end of the year, resulting in more wastage if they are not used or donated soon. In addition to these shots, the government has gone on to procure doses of newly-developed bivalent booster shots.

The auditor general said that while PHAC “equitably allocated” COVID-19 vaccine doses to the provinces and territories and oversaw their delivery in a “timely way,” efforts to cut down on wasted doses was “unsuccessful.”

This was in part due to delays in the agency developing and implementing an information technology planning system called “VaccineConnect,” meant to help track and manage vaccine usage. By the end of the audit, the report states that even still “not all of the system’s functionalities were being used.”

Another factor that contributed to more doses potentially going to waste than necessary was that the agency did not have in place finalized data-sharing agreements with the provinces and territories, a long-standing issue the AG’s office has brought up repeatedly with this and previous governments, most recently in the 2021 audit on pandemic preparedness.

“This meant that the agency relied on voluntary reporting by the provinces and territories. Although some provinces and territories consistently reported to the agency, the agency was unable to obtain complete data from most,” the audit said. “This meant that the status of these doses was unknown and reduced the agency’s ability to predict supply needs and plan for donations.”

Hogan found that while the federal health bodies were timely in responding to the trio of confirmed vaccine safety signals, the data-sharing gap “affected the agency’s ability to effectively share detailed case-level safety surveillance data with Health Canada, the World Health Organization, and vaccine companies,” as it pertained to incidents of adverse reactions in Canada. 

She is now calling for this gap to be addressed immediately, “because the sharing of health data is a cornerstone of effective surveillance to keep Canadians safe.”

Federal officials and opposition critics will be responding to Hogan’s findings this afternoon.

This is a breaking news story, more to come…

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Inflation in Canada: Grocery execs on profiteering claims – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

Grocery executives are disputing an accusation that grocery giants are taking advantage of inflation to drive up their own profits.

Executives from Loblaw and Empire testified at the House of Commons agriculture committee Monday as part of its study of food inflation.

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“Empire does not like inflation,” said Pierre St-Laurent, chief operating officer of Empire, the parent company of Sobeys.

Jodat Hussain, Loblaw’s senior vice-president of retail finance, told MPs Loblaw has been raising prices because suppliers are charging more, and that the company’s gross margins on food have remained stable.

“Fundamentally, grocery prices are up because the costs of products that grocers buy from suppliers have gone up,” Hussain said.

The executive said Loblaw pushes back on suppliers when they do propose raising prices, citing its disagreement with Frito-Lay over the price of potato chips, which led to empty shelves during the dispute.

The rapidly rising cost of groceries has become a hot-button issue in politics, with food prices up 11 per cent in October compared with a year earlier.

And relief isn’t expected to come any time soon.

According to the 13th edition of Canada’s Food Price Report released Monday, the total cost of groceries for a family of four is expected to be $1,065 more than it was this year.

The study into food inflation by the House of Commons committee was called for by NDP agriculture critic Alistair MacGregor.

The New Democrats have accused companies like Loblaw of profiting off of inflation by unfairly raising prices on consumers.

MPs heard testimony from others in the grocery industry, including the Retail Council of Canada; Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada; and Fruit and Vegetable Growers of Canada.

“We are experiencing a unique confluence of events — war, extreme weather and soaring fuel prices, all piling on top of supply chain disruptions and labour shortages,” said Karl Little, Retail Council of Canada’s senior vice-president of public affairs.

Sylvain Charlebois, a Dalhousie University professor of food distribution and policy, also appeared before MPs. The food researcher raised concerns about a lack of competition oversight that he says is feeding into distrust between consumers and grocers.

“The Competition Bureau is constantly failing the Canadian public by not providing forceful support to lawmakers in Canada when it simply endorses acquisitions and oversees investigations with little or no vigour,” Charlebois said.

The Competition Bureau announced in October it is launching a study to examine whether the highly concentrated grocery sector is contributing to rising food costs.

The competition watchdog is expected to provide a set of recommendations for the government in its final report, which it plans to publish in June.

The committee will also hold another meeting on food inflation on Dec. 12.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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More 'police' centres run by China found around world: NGO – CTV News

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A human rights organization says it has found dozens of additional overseas Chinese “police service centres” around the world, including at least two more in Canada.

In a new report released Monday called “Patrol and Persuade,” the Spain-based non-governmental organization Safeguard Defenders says it used open source statements from People’s Republic of China authorities, Chinese police and state media to document at least 48 additional stations.

This on top of the 54 stations revealed in September, bringing the total number of documented centres to 102 in 53 countries. Some host countries also have co-operated in setting up these centres, Safeguard Defenders says.

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The stations are accused of targeting Chinese nationals living abroad, particularly those who allegedly committed crimes in China, in order to coerce them to return home.

Safeguard Defenders reports that along with the three police “stations” previously confirmed in the Greater Toronto Area, which are operated out of the Chinese city of Fuzhou, it has found newly confirmed centres in Vancouver, operated out of Wenzhou, and another whose location is unknown but operates out of Nantong.

In a statement to CTV National News on Monday, the RCMP said it’s “investigating reports of criminal activity in relation to the so-called ‘police’ stations.” No further details were provided.

A similar statement was given by the police force to CP24 in late October following the previous report of Toronto-area stations.

The consulate general of the People’s Republic of China said at the time that the stations are to help Chinese citizens renew their driver’s licences, given many of them are unable to return to China due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the “local volunteers” facilitating this “are not Chinese police officers.”

However, Safeguard Defenders says the vast majority of the newly documented stations were set up starting in 2016, years before the pandemic began.

In its previous report in September, Safeguard Defenders found that Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 claimed fugitives to return to China “voluntarily” between April 2021 and July 2022. Among the tactics used, Safeguard Defenders said, included denying suspects’ children in China the right to education and punishing relatives through “guilt by association.”

The U.S. Department of Justice accused seven people in October of a yearslong campaign to harass and intimidate a U.S. resident to return to China.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the G20 summit in Indonesia in November, his office told reporters that he had raised concerns with Chinese President Xi Jinping of “interference” in Canada.

Asked about what specific interference he referred to, Trudeau later told the House of Commons, “We’ve known for many years that there are consistent engagements by representatives of the Chinese government into Canadian communities, with local media, reports of illicit Chinese police stations.”

With files from CP24 Web Content Writer Joanna Lavoie, CTV National News Vancouver Bureau Chief Melanie Nagy, CTV News Toronto Videojournalist Allison Hurst and The Canadian Press 

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