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

Supporters gather during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop cafe in Mirror Alta, on Saturday May 8, 2021. The Whistle Stop was shut down by AHS for not complying with COVID-19 rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Police hand out tickets to dozens leaving anti-lockdown protest in Alberta

Hundreds gathered outside the Whistle Stop Café in the hamlet of Mirror, Alta.

Oval Race track at Central Alberta Raceway. (Photo Submitted)
Central Alberta Raceways in Rimbey delays opening after health restrictions expand

Central Alberta Raceways had originally planned to open for the season at the end of May

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Alberta leads the Prairie provinces in being the first to take COVID-19 vaccine bookings for pre-teens. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta leads Prairie provinces in accepting COVID vaccine bookings for pre-teens

The province begins accepting appointments for kids as young as 12 starting today

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp (9) and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) watch an incoming shot during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
‘Very jealous’: Canadian teams can’t take advantage of NHL’s relaxed COVID-19 rules

League eased some tight COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for fully vaccinated clubs

File photo
Arrest made for armed robbery in Millet, Wetaskiwin RCMP continue to investigate

Wetaskiwin RCMP are investigating an armed robbery took place May 4, 2021 in Millet, Alta.

Dr. Karina Pillay, former mayor of Slave Lake, Alta., is shown at her medical clinic in Calgary on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
10 years later: Former Slave Lake mayor remembers wildfire that burned through town

Alberta announced in 2011 that an unknown arsonist had recklessly or deliberately ignited the forest fire

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman travelling from Alberta found dead in B.C. park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel’s approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

Wolf density in Jasper is low enough that the animals would not be expected to be a major threat

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

Most Read