CAF in crisis: undermanned, underfunded, under-appreciated

27 April 2023

What will it take to get the government to act on the woeful state of the Canadian Armed Forces?

The CDA (Conference of Defence Associations) Institute recently published an open letter from 62 prominent Canadians decrying the dreadful state of the Canadian Armed Forces and calling for immediate action by the government to rectify decades of neglect. The letter specifically called out the government’s failure to give higher priority to Canada’s defence and its failure to meet commitments to allies. The signatories of this letter included former chiefs of the defence staff, a retired Supreme Court justice and several past Vimy Award laureates.

Just three days after the CDAI letter was published, the Washington Post revealed that leaked Pentagon documents had included the shocking disclosure that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told NATO officials privately that Canada will never meet the military alliance’s defence spending target.

It has now been more than five months since I delivered a somewhat controversial speech that addressed, in part, the woeful state of our Armed Forces, while accepting the Vimy Award at an event hosted by CDAI. Unfortunately, I find parts of that speech are becoming even more relevant, rather than less, as time passes.

In my speech, I decried the lack of attention given by the government to our national defence and our Armed Forces, which has had a serious impact on Canada’s standing in the world. Since then, I have also deplored the fact the CAF was unable to respond to the earthquake in Turkey, and that Canada was ignored by our allies when the AUKUS security deal was signed by the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. Perhaps our complete exclusion from the AUKUS initiative could be related to the information that has now come to light regarding Canada likely never meeting its NATO commitments, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure as that would require the prime minister providing a direct answer to a question.

How many more examples or canaries in the mine does the government need before it acts to provide what the Armed Forces require: not only financial support but also moral support? The CAF is in crisis mode, attempting to deal with a lack of personnel and equipment, efforts to change its culture, operational pressures and reputational challenges. It is undermanned, underfunded, under-appreciated.

Canadians must begin to take service to country as important, and give it the priority it deserves. Our outstanding Armed Forces members are doing all they can with the means they have, and restrictions on free speech force them to serve without complaint. Our Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, has been direct in his advice to government and warned that the cupboard is bare. All the recent announcements of military equipment and infrastructure are just a rehash of previous announcements and none of this will raise the proportion of budget spent on defence to two per cent of GDP (which is the NATO target).

The crisis in recruitment is the product of many things, one of which has been recent reports of sexual misconduct in the forces. Who would want their young man or woman to join an institution that is reeling under such accusations and which seems unable to change? It must be noted however that there are many women and men who have served honourably and who have never been the victim or perpetrator of misconduct, but they have been ignored by the media, so there is never another side to the story. My wife, a retired RCAF Major, reached out during the height of the investigations to tell her story of having served 21 years without being sexually harassed but, although it was published by FrontLine, it was rebuffed by mainstream media outlets. Yes, we need to address this issue, but we also need some perspective.

Just prior to CDAI’s letter being published, France’s ambassador to Canada derided our country’s “weak defence effort” in a speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations. It was the second time in recent months that Michel Miraillet had criticized Canadians for allowing our military to wither.

Former U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, characterized Trudeau’s alleged comments regarding NATO as a “perfect example of what not to do.” Indeed, Canada has been a freeloader riding on the coattails of the alliance for many years. If the PM made these comments, they would serve to completely undermine the relevance of the great work our troops are doing in Latvia and would be another blow to morale … not to mention to recruiting.

LGen Andrew Leslie, a retired army commander and former Liberal MP, recently told CBC’s Power & Politics, “’There is absolutely no doubt that the United States is getting increasingly irritated with our slow and reluctant ways of spending money on defence capability.” Those comments came on the heels of the news that Canada’s commitment to the United Nations to develop a 200-soldier quick-reaction force, first promised in 2017, has been delayed another three years.

Although I am the current Vimy Award laureate, I was not asked to sign CDAI’s open letter, despite the fact that many of the points raised in the letter were points I had addressed in my speech last November. (CDAI took pains to distance itself from my remarks in the aftermath of my speech.) Regardless, I applaud the letter. If they had asked me to sign, I certainly would have.

Canadians and our government are failing our military. Many saw my remarks in November as a criticism of the Liberal government. But in terms of support to the Armed Forces, neither the Liberals nor the Conservative have been very good. At this time, only four small nations spend less on NATO as a portion of their GDP than Canada, a member of the G7. The neglect of our military not a case of partisanship — it is a case of Canadianship.

LGen (retd) Michel Maisonneuve spent 35 years in the CAF and 10 years as the Academic Director of RMC Saint-Jean. He continues to advocate for veterans, and in Nov 2022 was named the 30th laureate of the venerable Vimy Award.