Canada’s military is in crisis. Having been supposed to be in a period of growth as new demands increase the need for trained soldiers, sailors and aviators, the Trudeau government in 2017 laid out a plan to add thousands of full and part-time positions.
However, it appears it has been a failure. “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.
Brodie says the military is getting only half the number of applicants it needs per month to meet the goal of adding 5,900 members this year. As a result of the current personnel shortage, about one in 10 of the military’s 100,000 positions is unfilled.
“We are without a doubt in an applicant crisis right now,” Brodie says.
Brodie describes this as a “cultural reckoning” for the military, amid allegations of misconduct against top officers and concerns about a growing disconnect between the military’s makeup and Canadian society as a whole.
As a result, the military has begun targeted recruiting of new groups including women and Indigenous people, and broader moves to create a more inclusive workplace by easing dress rules.
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.