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Military’s chief orders halt to non-essential activities, focus on personnel crisis

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OTTAWA — Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre has ordered an immediate halt to all non-essential activities in favour of boosting military recruitment and retention, as the Canadian Armed Forces faces an unprecedented personnel crisis.

Eyre issued the sweeping order to senior commanders across the country on Thursday, saying dramatic action is needed to ensure the military has the troops to respond to growing demands and threats at home and abroad.

“I am concerned that as the threats to the world’s security situation increase, as threats at home increase, our readiness is going down,” Eyre told a parliamentary committee after issuing his order.

“I’m very, very worried about our numbers. And that’s why we’re putting as a priority effort — the priority effort — the reconstitution of our military.”

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The reconstitution order sets a completely new direction for the military after years of high-tempo deployments and operations in Canada and overseas by making the recruitment and retention of personnel its top priority.

Expected for several months, the order follows a period of unprecedented activity by the military. That includes large-scale deployments to Iraq, Mali, Ukraine and Latvia as well as helping with the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters in Canada.

It also coincides with lagging recruitment rates and a shortage of experienced personnel to train new recruits and lead actual missions, which Eyre in his order said “imperil our ability to recruit, train, employ and retain diverse Canadian talent, thus jeopardizing the readiness and long-term health of Canada’s defence capabilities.”

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

The problem has become so acute that some senior offers have started using the word “crisis” in interviews with The Canadian Press, including the commander of the navy and the officer responsible for military recruitment and training.

Eyre’s order reflects on the seriousness of the situation, saying: “Owing to personnel and staffing levels that have been compounded by the CAF’s heavy commitment to operations, the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a culture crisis, National Defence continues to lose its ability to deliver and sustain concurrent operations at the scope and scale necessary.”

It also underscored the need for urgency, saying: “The rebuilding process needs to occur on an accelerated timeline given the geopolitical environment that we find ourselves operating within, especially in light of the invasion of Ukraine.”

To that end, the order directs commanders to prioritize fully staffing recruiting centres and training schools and calls for a complete reassessment of the military’s current structure and composition.

Military commanders will take a closer look at what missions and other activities are no longer critical, whether certain positions in their units are no longer needed, and even whether certain recruitment targets are still realistic.

Eyre also opens the door to more flexible working arrangements for service members while emphasizing the continued need to change the military’s culture to better attract and retain women, Indigenous people and other under-represented groups.

“Culture change will remain the top departmental priority throughout the reconstitution process,” the order reads. “This endeavour will require significant resources and a willingness to embrace recommendations from external review authorities.”

The new approach won’t come without risks, which Eyre acknowledged in directing a reduction of large-scale training exercises in favour of more individualized classes as the military focuses on getting enough troops with basic skills into the ranks.

While military commanders have previously underscored the importance of large-scale exercises, the order says Eyre “will be ready to accept the associated reduction in readiness levels using a risk-based approach.”

And while many Armed Forces members join to serve on missions, the defence chief ordered commanders to “strike a balance between providing deployment opportunities to junior members and the need to rebuild our mid-level leader capacity.”

The defence chief indicated the reconstitution effort will take up to eight years, with the immediate goal of growing the force, and working toward the broader objective of ensuring the military’s size and structure are lined up with future needs and missions.

“External events such as major domestic emergencies caused by climate change, economic crises impacting the federal government’s fiscal flexibility, and widespread disinformation campaigns creating a lack of public confidence in national institutions could impede efforts to reconstitute,” he added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Canadian military would be ‘challenged’ to launch a large scale operation: chief of the defence staff

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OTTAWA –

Canada’s military forces are “ready” to meet their commitments should Russia’s war in Ukraine spread to NATO countries, but it would be a “challenge” to launch a larger scale operation in the long term, with ongoing personnel and equipment shortages, according to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.

Eyre told Joyce Napier on CTV’s Question Period in an interview airing Sunday that while the forces in Europe are “ready for the tactical mission they’ve been assigned,” he has larger concerns about strategic readiness. He said there’s a lack of people and equipment, and further concern around the ability to sustain a larger scale mission in the longer term.

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The Canadian Armed Forces are still struggling to retain staff, with nearly 10,000 fewer trained personnel than they’d need to be at full force, and equipment stocks below what they require.

“We’ve got challenges in all of those,” Eyre said, adding the numbers reflect what’s been “let slip over decades, as we’ve focused on the more immediate (needs).”

Eyre said Canada’s military would be “hard pressed” to launch another large-scale operation like it had in Afghanistan, as an example, without having to redistribute its resources around the globe, as threats evolve.

“The military that we have now is going to be increasingly called upon to support Canada and to support Canadian interests, to support our allies overseas, but as well at home,” Eyre said, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate change impacting the landscape in the Arctic, and an increase in digital and cybersecurity threats.

“It’s always a case of prioritization and balancing our deployments around the globe, not just with what, but when, and with who … and getting that balance right is something that that we’re working on,” he said. “Could we use more? Yeah, absolutely. But we operate with what we have.”

“We prioritize and balance based on what our allies need, and what the demand signals, just to make sure that we achieve the strategic effect the government wants us to achieve,” he also said.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Anita Anand said on CTV’s Question Period last week that Canada should “be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” and balance its NATO commitments with securing the Arctic and promoting peace in the Indo-Pacific.

Eyre said his number one priority is getting Canada’s armed forces up to full strength, with an attrition rate of 9.3 per cent between both regular and reserve forces, up from 6.9 per cent last year. The Canadian Armed Forces Retention Strategy was released just last month.

“We are facing the same challenge that every other industry out there is facing in terms of a really tight labor market,” Eyre said. “Every other military in the West is facing the same challenge.”

He explained the organization is working on streamlining its recruitment process, among other changes, to meet the increasing need, with the goal to get numbers up “as quickly as possible.”

“Ideally, would have been yesterday,” he said. “We’re looking at where we can accelerate the recruiting, the training, and optimizing our training pipeline.”

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How soccer is evolving in Canada

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Soccer wasn’t really a thing when I was a kid. I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. Sure, we all had soccer balls. And we played a lot of what should be more accurately called, Kick and Run. But I – and all my friends – did not really know the rules, the teams or the players. We might’ve heard of Pelé, but not more than that.

We followed hockey, baseball, football (CFL and NFL) and basketball, in that order. I did occasionally watch soccer on TV, but that was because we didn’t have a lot of channels and the soothing English accents often lulled me to sleep.

Things are much different now. My 13-year-old son is a massive soccer fan. He plays on a team three or four times a week. His schoolmates include a lot of second-generation Canadians, whose parents came from soccer-obsessed nations. He watches Premier League and Championship League matches. He’s watches La Liga and Bundesliga. He watches World Cup qualifiers and could tell me the backstory on most of the players. In fact, he watches classic games on YouTube and plays FIFA22 on his PS4 and as a result, knows more about Pelé than I ever did. But, because of him, I now watch enough football to know a game is a match, a goalie is a keeper and I know which plays end up in corner kicks or throw-ins.

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I once asked him, “How well do you know the Germany national team?” and he said, “Not very well.” He then proceeded to name seven of their 11 starters. It’s a different world.

I still know almost nothing compared to the other soccer dads, but like millions of Canadians, I watched Canada’s qualifying matches and I know we have a great team, with some stellar players who are worth watching. The qualifying matches regularly beat both hockey games and CFL football when it comes to viewership.

But we should care about more than just the matches themselves. The World Cup is one of the biggest and most lucrative sports spectacles on Earth. This will be the first one hosted in the Middle East. And although Qatar may look shiny and new on TV, it’s mired in what many Western nations believe to be medieval and backwards policies on working conditions, LGBTQ2S+ and women’s rights.

Finding people to talk about it in Qatar is NOT easy. One of W5’s goals this week was to talk to migrant workers to describe how they were treated, their living conditions and their labour rights. Most were too afraid to talk to us.

And to confound things, there have been many stories of journalists being detained or arrested for reporting on migrant workers. Last week, a Danish reporter was live on TV from Qatar and when asked what things were like there, he directed his camera operator to pan left – revealing security officials in golf carts, who immediately tried to stop the live hit. The next day Qatari officials apologized, but the message was clear: we can stop you from reporting when we want. It’s a fascinating video that’s been viewed millions of times around the globe.

The Qatari government denies they’ve put any restrictions on media. In a tweet, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy says “several regional and international media outlets are based in Qatar, and thousands of journalists report from Qatar freely without interference each year.”

Not everyone is convinced. Qatar ranks 118 out of 180 countries in the 2022 Press Freedom index, published by Reporters Without Borders. Freedom House, which is a U.S.-based freedom watchdog, gives Qatar a 25 out of 100 score on Global Freedom, which includes freedom of expression. (Canada ranks 98 and the US ranks 83).

A Reuters Institute column from last week on press freedom in Qatar suggests authorities obscure press freedom laws, by hiding behind trespassing laws.

“One of the most common risks when doing journalistic work in Qatar is to be accused of trespassing. This is what Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of Norwegian state broadcaster NRK were accused of when they were arrested by officers of Qatar’s Criminal Investigations Department in November 2021, while covering World Cup preparations. The journalists were held for over 30 hours before being released without charge. They deny they were filming without permission,” says the article.

A little insider info: I have personally written, “we don’t want you to get arrested, but…” at least twice in correspondence with our team in Qatar. I’ve never encouraged anyone to break the law of course, but sometimes doing our jobs leads police or security into thinking they have a duty (or at least a right) to stop you.

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Don’t have a cow: Senator’s legen-dairy speech draws metaphor from bovine caper

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OTTAWA — Haven’t you herd? A dramatic tale of 20 escaped cows, nine cowboys and a drone recently unfolded in St-Sévère, Que., and it behooved a Canadian senator to milk it for all it was worth.

Prompting priceless reactions of surprise from her colleagues, Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne recounted the story of the bovine fugitives in the Senate chamber this week — and attempted to make a moo-ving point about politics.

“Honourable senators, usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens,” Miville-Dechêne began in French, having chosen to wear a white blouse with black spots for the occasion.

“However, today, I want to express my amused admiration for a remarkably determined herd of cows.”

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On a day when senators paid tribute to a late Alberta pastor, the crash of a luxury steamer off the coast of Newfoundland in 1918 and environmental negotiators at the recent climate talks in Egypt, senators seated near Miville-Dechêne seemed udderly taken aback by the lighter fare — but there are no reports that they had beef with what she was saying.

Miville-Dechêne’s storytelling touched on the highlights of the cows’ evasion of authorities after a summer jailbreak — from their wont to jump fences like deer to a local official’s entreaty that she would not go running after cattle in a dress and high heels.

The climax of her narrative came as nine cowboys — eight on horseback, one with a drone — arrived from the western festival in nearby St-Tite, Que., north of Trois-Rivières, and nearly nabbed the vagabonds before they fled through a cornfield.

“They are still on the run, hiding in the woods by day and grazing by night,” said Miville-Dechêne, with a note of pride and perhaps a hint of fromage.

She neglected to mention the reported costs of the twilight vandalism, which locals say has cost at least $20,000.

But Miville-Dechêne did save some of her praise for the humans in the story, congratulating the municipal general manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette, for her “dogged determination,” and commending the would-be wranglers for stepping up when every government department and police force in Quebec said there was nothing they could do.

“There is a political lesson in there somewhere,” said the former journalist.

Miville-Dechêne ended on what could perhaps be interpreted as a butchered metaphor about non-partisanship: “Finally, I would like to confess my unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about. While we overcomplicate things, these cows are learning to jump fences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

 

 

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