The phoenix of RMC Saint-Jean rises

28 August 2018

“The criterion of an institution’s prestige and worth is its traditions, its spirit, and its roots. These are not attained in the space of a year or two. Indeed they can only be realized after a long period of growth, maturity and sacrifice.”
– Brooke Claxton, Minister of National Defence, in the CMR Annual Review, 1952-53

Here is my question: How the heck did the re-opening of Royal Military College Saint-Jean (RMC Saint-Jean) become a strategic issue and make it into the new Canadian Defence Policy “Strong, Secure, Engaged” (SSE)?

Let’s take a quick look at the history, shall we? The Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean (CMR) was one of three jewels in the crown of Canadian Military Colleges (CMC) from 1952 to 1995. Located in the province of Québec – the others were the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston, and Royal Roads Military College (RRMC) in Victoria – it provided an opportunity for Officer-Cadets to complete their studies within a Francophone environment. Over the course of those 43 years, CMR produced thousands of well-educated, bilingual officers for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), but federal budget cuts in the early 1990s, resulted in the closure of both CMR and RRMC. The academic programs were consolidated in Kingston, and RMC also was fully bilingualized.

However, a group of dedicated officers, non-commissioned members, and civilian staff quietly worked to retain – on CMR’s campus – a one-year program enabling recruits from Québec to pursue their studies after Secondary V (Québec High School Diploma, equivalent to grade 11 in all other provinces). These recruits, who belonged to “l’Escadron Richelieu”, were then able to attend RMC and begin their University-level education in Kingston. How this one-year program was retained is a fascinating story in itself.

The new RMC Saint-Jean (with a bilingual name) was re-opened officially in 2008 as a bilingual CEGEP-level College feeding RMC with Officer-Cadets destined to become officers in the CAF. Since that time, Cadets have been recruited from across Canada and have spent one year (usually recruits from outside of Québec who have completed Grade 12) or two years (recruits from Québec province who have completed Secondary V) and followed the CMC programs of four pillars: Academic, Military, Bilingualism and Athletic. Over the last 11 years, RMC Saint-Jean has sent more than 1100 Cadets to RMC, directly into the second year of their university studies.

Poster contest – research results in Humanities and Science

Since 2008, RMC Saint-Jean has had five Commandants, each with the idea that the return of the College to University level was a necessary move for the CAF. One of them, Colonel (now Brigadier-General) Jennie Carignan, a CMC graduate herself, took the initiative to task two Academics from the College to review all the different studies that had taken place throughout the life of the Colleges such as the 1998 Withers Report. The task was to propose options for “optimizing” the current staff, infrastructure and resources of the College. There were two over-riding criteria: First, the preferred option should meet a need of the CAF; and second, should minimally impact RMC as it continues to produce excellent officers.

The resulting Mongeau/Parenteau  Report created a blueprint for the preferred option – a business case that would see the return of the College to University-level, with a total Cadet population of 350 at end-state, graduating some 30-35 Officers each year, and offering a single academic program. To meet the first of the two over-riding criteria, increasing the number of officers produced through the CMCs would be a positive move as had been recommended by the Withers Report. The report also proposed the development of an academic program that does not exist within the CAF at this time but that would meet the needs of the CAF by preparing officers destined to serve in missions across the globe – officers prepared to deal with today’s and tomorrow’s threats, based on lessons learned from the contemporary operational environment. The second criterion was met by ensuring there was as little duplication within the academic program developed with those being taught at RMC. Indeed, there was no question of duplicating the Engineering and Science programs from RMC, with their existing state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment. All the Arts academic programs currently available in Kingston would also remain.

The business case estimated the cost of optimizing the College would amount to incremental costs of about $8 Million a year at end-state (a figure which includes a significant contingency), and would require some 50 more personnel. One of the positive aspects of the business case is that the cost per Cadet is estimated to be reduced by 30%: truly optimizing the resources used.

Military Leadership is one of RMC’s four program pillars.


After the Business Case was produced, staff and Commanders within the chain of command set about getting the necessary approvals for the implementation of the plan. There were a number of questions raised about the need for another CMC; many saw the return of the College as a threat to RMC; actions to delay implementation came from varied sources in the hope that the issue would go away. These were mostly a reaction to change and to what was construed as a threat to individuals’ jobs. On the plus side, there were convincing arguments that the return of RMC Saint-Jean to university level was about access, complementing (and not duplicating) the range of existing programs available at RMC, providing opportunity for Francophones to study in their own environment, and fostering the bilingualism of CAF Officers.

The return of RMC Saint-Jean to university level had been an issue bubbling along regionally and provincially since its closure in 1995. When the re-opening of the College was announced by the Harper government in 2007, the issue resurfaced within Québec politics. Several provincial parties voiced their interest in making the return of the College to its prior status a part of their election platform. Two Ministers of the Québec government co-signed a letter to the Minister of National Defence in April 2016 voicing the government’s support for the move. At RMC Saint-Jean’s first leadership seminar “Leadersphere” a month later, Premier of Québec Philippe Couillard publicly and forcefully stated his support for this action. Others such as many Ex-Cadets, in particular Ex-Senator LGen (retd) Roméo Dallaire had always advocated for the return of the College to university status.

Nevertheless, it took a significant staff effort by senior officers to ensure that the College’s return to university status was part of the new Defence policy “Strong Secure, Engaged”. When it was published, and the return of RMC Saint-Jean to university status was identified as Initiative Number 3 in the Policy, much of the air left the sails of the naysayers, but there was still the matter of “when” the return would take place. Again, a concerted effort to delay the return came from varied places, under different pretenses of wanting to exert due diligence. Only the publication of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Initiating Directive (SID) reduced the interference to lower levels.

Even before the SID was published, contact had been initiated with the provincial government to ascertain the status of the CMR University Charter of 1985. It was confirmed that the “Loi sur le Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean” had never been abrogated and still authorized the College to grant Bachelor degrees in the programs listed in the Charter. All those programs had been rationalized and transferred to RMC after the closure of CMR in 1995. It was also ascertained that the name of CMR had been removed from the list of Québec Universities in 2001, six years after its closure.

Through contact with the Ministry of Education, it was learned that it was possible to modify one of the programs listed in the original Charter up to 30% and to rename it. Approval of this approach would take much less time than standing up a totally new program. It was therefore decided to update the former “Military and Strategic Studies” (MSS) program that was previously given at CMR and change its name to “International Studies” (IS) to differentiate it from the MSS program that was now being taught at RMC. The 1995 program needed to be brought up to date in any case, and the implementation of the CMC Core Curriculum also required many courses be added to the program. By broadening the scope of the course from MSS to make the program a true IS program would ensure there would be as little duplication with the MSS program now resident at RMC, thereby meeting the second criteria of the stand-up effort.

Explaining the new Academic Programme in International Studies.

It was agreed between the two CMCs that a totally new program would be developed for RMC Saint-Jean jointly by the two Colleges once the modified program was up and running. Approval of this new program by the Ministry of Education of Québec would likely take more than three years.

The effort to update the program and submit it to the Ministry of Education was completed by a new University Program Committee at RMC Saint-Jean chaired by the Dean of Studies, Dr Béatrice Richard, and assisted by pedagogical and academic staff. The modified program was reviewed by an independent expert from Saint-Paul University through the effort of its Rector, Dr Chantal Beauvais, who is also Chair of RMC Saint-Jean’s Board of Governors. It was submitted to Québec’s “Bureau de Coopération inter-universitaire” (BCI) in November 2017. In Feb. 2018, the BCI responded with a number of questions and requests for details on the program. Work has been ongoing to answer the questions and to provide the requested details, and a visit by a team of BCI experts is now scheduled for September.

The new program was presented to the College staff and Cadets over the winter, and a comprehensive briefing on the “optimized” RMC Saint-Jean was provided by each of the Military, Academic, Bilingualism and Sports pillar Directors. Confirmation of the approval of the program by each of the available trades of the CAF was sought and received. As registration into the programs of study at RMC took place, the new RMC Saint-Jean program was also presented only to RMC Saint-Jean Cadets as an option for those wishing to study in Arts. Thus far, just under 20 students registered into the program and will be the initial cohort of Cadets to remain at RMC Saint-Jean for the full BA in International Studies and graduate in 2021, a number that is more than acceptable for the first year of the expansion.

A significant positive development is that a good number of Anglophone students made the decision to remain in Saint-Jean within this first cohort. For this first year of implementation, it was agreed that no students from RMC would register into the International Studies program at RMC Saint-Jean; again as a means of reducing the impact on RMC. As of 2019, however, the plan is that the International Studies program will be offered to RMC students in the same way all other programs are offered after First Year to all Cadets at both Colleges; in this way, the Colleges will be truly connected and share students.

The aim of the International Studies program that was developed is to prepare CAF officers for a successful career in the service of Canada, whether at home or abroad. It will provide officers with cultural awareness, a broad-based knowledge of international issues, an introduction to anthropology, sociology and other Humanities, the ability to communicate, and implement direct contact with other Academies of other Nations. The program maintains, of course, the four pillars of the CMCs, as well as the Core Curriculum developed as a result of the Withers Report of 1998.

Convocation at RMC Saint-Jean, May 2018

Built into the curriculum will be a series of exchanges with Academies based in other Nations. This is a significant deviation from the norm, where opportunities for trips abroad were undertaken as an add-on to an academic program. In the case of the International Studies program at RMC Saint-Jean, the exchanges and trips will be built into the program and form part of the curriculum.

The program also includes courses in a foreign language to build upon Canada’s two official languages. Once a Cadet has reached the minimum second language ability required of the CAF, they will be able to take courses in a third language. After much discussion it was agreed that the initial foreign language taught would be Spanish. Other languages such as Arabic, Russian and Mandarin were considered. However, it was decided to settle on Spanish initially because it would be easier to hire Spanish teachers, to take advantage of our current relationship with Academies of the Western Hemisphere and with Latin American students currently studying at RMC Saint-Jean through the Military Training and Cooperation Program.

In spite of the very positive progress being made in implementing SSE Initiative Number 3, there are a number of challenges facing the College. The first is the still-percolating effort to derail and delay the emplacement of the program, often justified by so-called carefulness. These efforts will eventually fade away after a few years, especially after the stand-up of the program demonstrates the quality of the graduates produced.

In terms of legal approval of the program by the Québec Ministry of Education, the approach being taken by the BCI is one of assisting the College in standing up the program. It is therefore a matter of providing the required answers to the BCI to explain the rationale and integration of the program, and approval will happen. The return of the name of the College on the list of recognized Universities is a decision of the Québec National Assembly and is expected the next time the Law is amended by the provincial government.

The new program needs to be fully developed course by course, but a step-by-step approach is being used with the initial emphasis on the first University-level courses required this August. As the year progresses, the courses required for the next year will be developed, and so on. The required resources in terms of personnel, funding and infrastructure will need to be provided until the College reaches Full Operational Capability.
One of the competitive advantages of RMC Saint-Jean is the presence on campus of the CWO-Robert-Osside Profession of Arms Institute. This Non-Commissioned-Officer Academy is led by an experienced staff, fully integrated into the College structure and sees every CAF NCO follow a ten-day Distributed Learning education program spread out over ten weeks at their unit, followed by attendance on a three-week residential program at the College. Over 1700 NCOs are educated per year, with about 1000 spending time in residence at RMC Saint-Jean over the year.

The Cadets at RMC Saint-Jean – the leaders of tomorrow – therefore have the benefit of living and eating alongside professional NCOs – the leaders of today – of all Services and Trades; those on staff, and those on course. The optimization of RMC Saint-Jean is based on a plan that includes retaining the Robert-Osside Institute on site. Should there be a desire to increase the number of Officer-Cadets in residence beyond the planned end-state of 350, a decision regarding the relocation of the Institute would have to be taken.

The biggest challenge facing the implementation of RMC Saint-Jean is recruiting. To ensure the minimum impact on RMC by retaining the same student population, planning included reducing the number of officers produced through the Regular Officer Training Plan at civilian universities and increasing the number of Cadets recruited and selected after high school in the province of Québec (equivalent to grade 11 elsewhere in Canada). Thus far, recruiting has failed to meet the targets given, though not because of the lack of applications. Systemic issues need to be addressed that are beyond the scope of this article, but unless recruiting improves, there definitely will be an impact on RMC – and on RMC Saint-Jean.

The International Studies program was developed to allow a rapid stand-up of the College at the University-level. The two Colleges will now work jointly to develop a totally new program for RMC Saint-Jean that meets the needs of the CAF but does not exist currently. It is foreseen that this program would allow students at either location to take courses in class or at a distance through taking advantage of new technology. Approval of the BCI will require between two and three years.

Finally, the future will decide whether RMC Saint-Jean returns to its authority to award Masters and Doctorate degrees.

Year-end Academic Procession at Graduation Parade.


The return of RMC Saint-Jean to full University status has been a desire of all those at the College since the announcement of its re-opening as a kind of “military CEGEP” in 2007. A number of studies were undertaken to see how this could be done. But success was only achieved through the hard work of those who kept the one-year program in place in Saint-Jean after the closing of CMR; through the initiative of a Commandant who decided to see how the College could be “optimized”; through a clear and convincing report by two academics who proposed an achievable solution; by moving quickly to get the necessary approval in spite of the naysayers; by the leadership shown by successive Commandants and staff of the College as well as support from the chain of command all the way to the CDS; and by the political will of the Government as voiced in SSE.

RMC Saint-Jean has built its traditions, its spirit, and its roots since it opened in 1952 through a long period of growth, maturity and the sacrifice of many. Now, as it rises again, RMC Saint-Jean is one of two jewels in the CMC crown.
LGen (retired) J.O.Michel Maisonneuve, CMM, MSC, CD served 35 years in the Canadian Army and was then appointed by the Minister of National Defence as the first Academic Director of RMC Saint-Jean when it reopened in 2007. He retired in June 2018.