Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Alta., Friday, July 8, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces is facing a shortfall of several thousand troops thanks at least in part to challenges training new recruits during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Alta., Friday, July 8, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces is facing a shortfall of several thousand troops thanks at least in part to challenges training new recruits during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Canadian military short thousands of troops as COVID-19 impedes recruitment, training

The pandemic has exacerbated a long-standing problem for the military

The Canadian Armed Forces is dealing with a shortfall of several thousand troops as COVID-19 has forced the military to curb the training of new recruits for most of the past year.

While the military says there has not been any immediate impact on its missions here and abroad as it manages the shortfall and training challenges, a spokesman acknowledged the potential for longer-term ramifications.

“It is too early to determine how the reduced number of recruitment files being processed during the pandemic will affect CAF operations in the medium to long term,” Maj. Travis Smyth said in an email.

The federal Liberal government has authorized the Armed Forces to have at least 68,000 regular-force members and 29,000 part-time reservists, which is based on available funding and the missions that the military is expected to undertake.

Yet the military was short of those targets by about 2,000 regular-force members and nearly 5,000 reservists at the end of December, according to figures provided to The Canadian Press.

One reason: The military was able to provide basic training to only about a quarter the expected number of new hires since March as COVID-19 forced recruiting centres and training camps to close or otherwise curtail their operations.

“The pandemic has limited training for large parts of the year in order to meet provincial and federal health and safety guidelines,” Smyth said.

“The reduced training capacity, in addition to strict protocols that the recruiting centres are required to follow to ensure the safety and well-being of applicants and staff, has reduced the number of files being processed.”

The pandemic has exacerbated a long-standing problem for the military, which has struggled for years to attract new recruits.

Federal auditor general Michael Ferguson flagged personnel shortages as a real threat to the Forces in November 2016, warning that it put a heavier burden on those in uniform and hurt military operations.

The military at that time was dealing with roughly the same number of unfilled positions as today, which resulted in a number of issues including a lack of personnel to fly or maintain various aircraft.

The shortfalls have persisted despite a 2017 Liberal government promise to expand the size of the Armed Forces to defend against growing global instability and emerging threats in space and online.

The recruiting challenge has contributed to a push by senior commanders to make the Armed Forces more inclusive, with active efforts to attract women, visible minorities, Indigenous Canadians and members of the LGBTQ community.

On the plus side, Smyth did indicate that the military had managed to make some progress on retaining more experienced members in 2019 and the first three months of 2020, though he did not have figures for the nine months of the pandemic.

Defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said the difficulties attracting and training recruits during the pandemic is not surprising given the restrictions that have been placed on society as a whole.

Yet he also noted that at a time of great economic uncertainty for large parts of the country, the military — and the federal government — represent stable employment, and that the military should at least be able to see better retention.

Either way, Perry said the continuing challenge getting new recruits in uniform underscores the importance of the military’s efforts to attract new recruits beyond what has been its traditional source: white men.

“The interest and the onus on the military organization to try and achieve some very longstanding goals … to broaden its recruiting base, to make it more representative of the country as a whole, take on increased importance,” Perry said.

He also worried that continued reports about hate and sexual misconduct in the ranks — including the recent allegations against former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance — send the wrong message to potential recruits.

Global News has reported allegations that Vance had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate and made a sexual comment to a service member that he significantly outranked in 2012 before taking on the military’s top post.

Vance has not responded to The Canadian Press’s requests for comment, and the allegations against him have not been independently verified or tested in court. Global says Vance has denied any wrongdoing.

Military police are now investigating the allegations, while Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has promised an independent probe into the matter.

Military police confirmed last week that they opened an investigation into Vance’s conduct during his time as deputy commander of a NATO force in Naples, Italy, before he was named defence chief. No charges were ever laid.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas. (Dennis Dugas photo)
Port Hardy mayor advocates for fish farm industry, talks impact on North Island

The Discovery Islands closures will certainly have an effect on Port Hardy, says Dugas.

An Island Health nurse prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy Island Health)
Health authority opening 19 clinics to immunize Vancouver Island residents

Health authority anticipates more than 40,000 people will be immunized over the next month

Debra Lynn photo
Mysterious smoke cloud seen in Seavac Centre

Fire crews did a thorough sweep of the centre.

North Island Gazette file photo of Port McNeill council.
Heated conversation occurs at Port McNeill council over policy request

Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom wants to see a change in the… Continue reading

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
The Port Alice pulp mill site is being ‘recycled’

Bankruptcy company is overseeing de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring.

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

(BC SPCA)
Is it safe to give your dog some peanut butter? Not always, BC SPCA warns

Some commercial peanut butter ingredients can be harmful to dogs

Cole Moore with one of his sisters, Jasmin Moore. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island man looks to brain surgery for second chance

Fingers crossed that procedure can give Cole Moore a new lease on life after decade of seizures

Health Minister Adrian Dix, front, B.C. Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrive for a news conference about the provincial response to the coronavirus, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, March 6, 2020. Pandemic emergency measures have been in place for almost a year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. officials plead for patience as 1.7 million COVID-19 calls flood in

Vaccine registration for 90-plus seniors opened Monday

A West Kootenay man died in an avalanche on March 4 while snowmobiling near Mount Payne, which is indicted by the red flag. Illustration: Google Maps
B.C. father of 3 dead after avalanche in West Kootenay

The man was snowmobiling with a group when incident occurred March 4

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Vaccine hesitancy decreases in B.C. as mass immunizations set to begin: poll

Two-thirds of British Columbians, and Canadians, would get the vaccine as soon as possible

Software engineer Shaimma Yehia, 40, has been forced to re-skill during the COVID-19 pandemic after more than six years of unsuccessfully applying for jobs in B.C.’s tech industry. (Submitted photo/Shaimma Yehia)
Why skilled immigrant women continue to be shut out of B.C.’s booming tech sector

Experienced software engineer Shaimma Yehia, 40, hasn’t found a job since she migrated to Canada 6 years ago

Ron Sivorot, business director at Kennametal’s Langford site, the Greater Victoria facility that made a component being used on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. (Jake Romphf, Black Press Media)
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover digging in with B.C.-made part

Kennametal’s Langford plant’s tooth blank is helping the rover’s drill collect rock cores

Most Read