NEW! Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Take the quiz and Win a Trivia Challenge prize pack!

Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Take the quiz and Win a Trivia Challenge prize pack!

Forces Fighting From The Ropes For More Funds

Defence Minister Art Eggleton chats with Charles Belzile, chairman of the Conference of Defence Associations.

A cash-strapped Canadian Forces, nursing outdated equipment and poor morale, has been given a pep talk to boost its flagging spirits by Defence Minister Art Eggleton, who says more money is flowing into a military that he claims is more combat-capable today than it was 10 years ago.

It appeared, however, that most of his audience of retired and serving members of the Forces at the Conference of Defence Associations seminar Feb. 22-23 were less than confident in his message about today’s Canadian Forces.

“The army can’t fight…,” retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie said during a panel discussion that explored the relationship between the military and the public. The military was definitely smaller–less than 60,000 today compared to 80,000 at the end of the Cold War–but it was definitely not more capable.

When the former commander of peacekeepers in the Balkans called for a show of hands if anyone among some 200 military officials and analysts attending the seminar objected to his statement about Forces capability after a decade of budget cuts and troop reductions, not one hand was raised.

MacKenzie’s comments contradicted the upbeat message delivered by Eggleton and the chief of defence staff, General Maurice Baril, who addressed the seminar earlier in the day. But MacKenzie’s views were more in line with an assessment given by Lieutenant-General Mike Jeffrey, chief of land staff, during a later session.

Saying the army was “out of balance and somewhat fragile,” Jeffrey said he believes that despite some new equipment and new uniforms “there are too many tasks and insufficient resources to maintain the army over the long term as it is currently structured.

“I am concerned about the moral health of the army,” he told the seminar. “We face a sense of uncertainty caused by constant change and, not insignificantly, a sense of mistrust of the senior leadership of the army.”

Eggleton said the government has now turned the corner after a decade of cuts to fight the deficit, and that the military can expect some substantial infusions of cash for quality of life issues, pay increases and improvements to an old and rusted infrastructure. This was on top of improvements already completed or on the way, such as new submarines, frigates, helicopters and planned updates to aircraft such as the CF-18 fighters and the Aurora long range patrol craft.

“There is a lot of competition in the recruitment field,” said Eggleton in reference to a Forces recruitment crisis that has left some equipment idle and ships tied up at docks for lack of crew (The Battle For Personnel, March/April). The Forces have launched a campaign to recruit up to 10,000 men and women, improving pay levels and other quality of life issues to compete with a booming economy that attracts youth to the private sector and lures trained people away from the Forces. “We want to make sure we are competitive,” said Eggleton. “We want the best and the brightest.”

Eggleton also said in reply to questions from his audience that the government is also looking at increasing the manpower of the reserves, which he called an important link between the public and the military.

The need to attract and keep more military manpower, and to increase the Forces contact with the public by holding training and other exercises in closer contact with the people, were themes touched on by several speakers at the seminar, including General Baril.

“Three areas where the Canadian Forces currently face challenges are people, Force capabilities and resources,” said Baril. “In terms of people…we need more of them. At the moment, our numbers are below 60,000 Regular Force and 20,000 Reserve Force personnel, and attrition is continuing to outstrip intake.” A strong economy had made civilian jobs plentiful and a high tempo of military operations over the last decade had put strains on certain trades and added demands on personnel. The military was fighting back by improving quality of life for its personnel, contracting out some of its services and better managing its busy schedule of operations at home and abroad. Funding for recruitment advertising had doubled this year and signing bonuses were being offered for certain applicants, such as medical doctors.

“But, in spite of these efforts, recruiting remains a challenge,” said Baril, “as it does for most other western militaries.”

Baril said the reserve forces will be increased, will continue to form the basis for mobilization and will continue to maintain its strong links to communities across the country. “It will be better equipped and trained to improve its ability to augment the Regular Force and to fulfill newly assigned roles, missions and tasks.”

Military historian and author Jack Granatstein told the seminar that public opinion today is divided between very anti- and very pro-military. “The ordinary Canadian knows very little about the Canadian Forces, scarcely sees anyone in uniform and differentiates not at all between regular and reservists.” The Forces should be available in cases of floods or snowstorms or natural disasters, and all this should be done at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers and with the minimum number of personnel. But if war came, the public would demand that the military win all its battles, be the best equipped, best trained and best at fighting.

Granatstein said Canadians are naive in many ways about the military and know very little about national defence. “Unlike the Americans, we do not have a large cabaret of academics studying the military. We do not have a knowledgeable media and we have very few MPs who have ever served. And because we do not have conscription, we have not exposed the military to the public and vice versa. There is no threat on the immediate horizon, so naive and uninformed Canadians would be just as happy to eliminate the military at once.”

The theme of estrangement between the Forces and the public was taken up by Sergeant Arthur Majoor, based in London, Ont., who said the reasons for this lack of recognition are not hard to find. Few people had served in the military, only a small number of people react with service members outside of military communities and the bulk of the military was located away from Canada’s major urban centres. A sustained effort would be needed to mobilize the public to support the military role.

“One way is to increase the presence of the Armed Forces in the urban areas of Canada,” he said. Battle groups preparing for deployment overseas should do work-up exercises in and around urban centres. This would be more realistic for the troops and would also allow the local populations to see the soldiers in action. “Reserve troops should also be encouraged to do training in their home towns, not in armoury classrooms but right on the streets.”

The importance of the reserves was also stressed by another panelist at the seminar, retired general Anthony Zinni of the U.S. Marine Corps. He described the role of the reserves as “a bridge to the community.”

Political strategist Hugh Segal, president of the Institute for Research on Public Policy in Montreal, said in his keynote speech to the seminar that a change of dynamics of civil-military relations is needed to enhance democracy, strengthen the chain of command and better inform the public. “The last election campaign saw no discussion of defence policy. Not one serious speech or debate took place on the subject. Not one question was posed from any journalist on the televised debates. No theme days on defence were organized by any of the leaders or parties.” He called for a full debate on national security, not only in Parliament but also around the family table.

“Citizens who, like me, want a larger and more modern armed forces, a stronger reserve, more modern kit and a budget closer to $15 billion in real terms as opposed to $9 billion in real terms we now have, would have to marshal our case and our arguments,” he told the seminar. The military would have a key role in the debates in explaining the consequences of the choices being contemplated. “We can, in the typical Canadian way, put off the debate and try to muddle through,” he added. But the cost would be high.

Another speaker who stressed the importance of a public debate on defence and national security issues, MP David Pratt from Nepean, Ont., said the time for such a debate has never been better. He cited figures from a public opinion poll taken a few months ago that surveyed 1,537 adult Canadians on what they thought of the Canadian Forces and related military issues. That poll showed that 81 per cent of Canadians believe the Forces are doing a good job, that 91 per cent believe it is important for Canada to maintain a modern combat-ready military and that 72 per cent believe that the defence budget should increase over the next decade.

Generally, says Pratt, the poll indicates the Forces are perceived in a good light and should send a strong signal to Finance that the DND budget needs to be bolstered. “It is interesting that even as Canadians feel that the Forces are under-funded, they are also convinced that the Forces will be called upon to do even more in the future. This is clearly an instance where public policy needs to catch up to public opinion.”

Eggleton Announces Creation Of A National Military Cemetery

Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa will become home for a national military cemetery.

Canadian Forces members will finally have a place of their own. In early March National Defence Minister Art Eggleton announced the creation of a National Military Cemetery at the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa to be the resting place of those who have served their country. The cemetery is scheduled for dedication this summer.

“The National Military Cemetery will serve as a national focal point to demonstrate Canada’s commitment to peace and security both internationally and at home,” said Eggleton. “It will honour the sacrifices made principally by serving and former members who have died since the Korean War, though all veterans will be eligible for interment there.”

WW I, WW II and Korea War veterans, as well as all current Canadian Forces members and former members who were honourably discharged are eligible for burial in the National Military Cemetery. Those who served in the wartime merchant navy also qualify for interment at the site. In addition, one family member may also be interred in the same plot as the service member. However, no transfers from other grave sites will be allowed.

Dominion President Bill Barclay said the Legion was really pleased with the initiative. “The development of a National Military Cemetery pays real tribute to those who served in war and peace,” he said. “It’ll also serve as a focal point for Canadians in helping to perpetuate remembrance which is one of our major goals.”

The Beechwood Cemetery is already a large veterans burial site, the final resting place for distinguished veterans like General Andrew McNaughton, commander of the Canadian Army during WW II and a former UN ambassador. Victoria Cross recipient Fred Konowal is also buried there. Sites in Vancouver and Winnipeg also contain large numbers of veterans and 18,000 veterans are buried at the cemetery in Pointe-Claire, Que., which is operated by the Last Post Fund.

The National Military Cemetery will occupy about two hectares at the Beechwood site and accommodate at least 5,000 graves. This is small in comparison to the Arlington Cemetery in the United States which measures 244 hectares and contains the remains of more than 260,000 people and is also the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

One-time development costs of $700,000 are expected for landscaping and the erection of a monument in the west end of the cemetery. The granite monument is yet to be designed but will include a base for a Canadian flag to be flown over the site.

Until now, Canadian Forces members were usually buried at their last place of duty or near their family residence. Canadian Forces covers the burial costs for serving members. Financial help is available through the Last Post Fund, a non-profit group that ensures a dignified burial of veterans, for former members who have a disability related to service or whose estate would not cover the costs.


Sign up today for a FREE download of Canada’s War Stories

Free e-book

An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.