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Why the Canadian Armed Forces can’t recruit enough soldiers?

In the following article by the Canadian Press, a list of reasons (or excuses) are provided as to why the CAF can’t recruit the number of soldiers it needs. Among other reasons given are the pandemic, the sexual assault controversy involving a small number of the senior brass, or the unstated/implied reason of the CAF “values” not lining up with some unknown percentage of the Canadian population. More on this last reason below.

Here are the recruitment numbers listed in the article:

  • 2020-21: 2,000 recruited
  • 2021-22: 4,800 recruited

The target the CAF wanted to hit in both of these two years was 5,900.

Let’s do some quick math. Over a two-year period, the Canadian military has recruited only 60% of the people it needs into its ranks. And keep in mind, the CAF is widely believed to be well under its government-authorized strength of 70,000. Keep in mind again the Canadian Armed Forces is wildly understrength for a country of 36 million people. On a per capita basis, Canada has one of the smallest militaries in the world.

All this to say, Canada can ill afford to miss its recruiting targets.

Which brings me to the discussion of the real reasons why the CAF are not hitting its recruiting targets. Importantly, none of these were mentioned in the mainstream articles I reviewed on this topic.

Good reader, here are the reasons for your consideration:

1) The CAF is woefully underfunded. As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, Canada funds its military to the tune of between 1.2 and 1.4 percent of GDP. In NATO, an alliance of 30 countries, Canada’s defence spending is ranked 27th.

As a result of this inadequate spending all of the following is true of the Canadian military:

  • A dearth of equipment for those units it fields (e.g., approx. 60 functioning Leopard 2 tanks, three dated submarines, a limited number of modern heavy artillery pieces, no supply ships)
  • Key platforms or equipment is old or verging on ancient (e.g., the CF-18, handguns from the 1950s)
  • It lacks key platforms that many other modern-day and better-funded militaries have (e.g., air defence capabilities of any kind, attack or medium-lift helicopters, modern anti-tank weapons, any kind of serious long-range drone program)

All of these shortfalls are well known by Canadians and talked about frequently in the media. If I’m a young adult and I’m looking to get into a profession or organization, am I going to give consideration to that outfit that so blatantly lacks in equipment and capabilities?

Let’s put to us a bit of a crass analogy to drive home this point.

You’re a dude (we’ll revisit young men later) and you’re looking for a potential partner. You’re fit, you’re not half bad looking (or at least that what you’re mom tells you), you’re in your last year of college or university, you can cook and you manage to wash your sheets at least once every two months. You are a young man of potential. Being fit, you go to the gym regularly and at that gym you’ve been talking up these two gals and you’re thinking of asking one of them on a date.

Gal one is a little overweight, her attendance at the gym is inconsistent, you’ve seen she drives an older model car and when you speak to her, she tells you she’s on a break from uni and is working a couple of server gigs. Gal two is fit. Just like you. She’s at the gym as much or more than you. She drives what looks like a newer car and when chatting her up, you find out she’s just been accepted to grad school.

To which person is our fictional young man more likely to want to commit to? It’s evolutionary biology 101 and obvious. Gal two is the winner almost every single time.  

The CAF is gal one, only far worse. Our fictional story above is how young men think. And despite what the CAF is telling Canadians right now, young men are the most important demographic for its recruiting efforts. So, if you are an organization that is old, tired, and lacks the key functions of a modern military, is it any wonder why younger Canadians and in particular younger men are not signing up for the CAF?

2) A Failure In Marketing: As per the previous section, I’m going to discuss this point with the assumption that the CAF is actually trying to hit its recruiting targets. To do this, the Canadian military must try to recruit young men. 

Having said this, I went online and found several old and more recent recruitment videos for the Canadian Armed Forces and do you know what the most recent videos told me in no uncertain terms? That the CAF thinks it’s going to meet its recruiting objectives by heavily targeting women.

 In one of the two most recent recruitment videos I could find on YouTube, the video highlighted four different women who over the course of the 70-second video are shown to be doing a variety of not-terribly-interesting jobs. There were men featured in this video, but aside from a cook working the grill, their presence in the video was cameo in nature, and they were doing things that were equally as boring as their female colleagues.

The second most recent video featured women exclusively, doing even more boring things than the first video. I could find no other recruitment videos that were of the past two years.

I think now is the time to make it abundantly clear that I don’t have a problem with women generally or women joining the CAF. I’m happily married, I have a wonderful daughter who is on cusp of uni, and over the course of my professional career, the vast majority of my bosses have been women.

Perhaps more important, I have first-hand experience that gives every indication that women can be highly effective soldiers in the most demanding military trades.

Back when I was 19, I spent the last of my three years in Canada’s Army Reserves in an infantry regiment. When we did our basic infantry course in Petawawa, my unit (the Algonquins) was paired up with another Ontario regiment. I can’t remember which it was, but one of the things I remember clearly is one Private Prudomme. Private Prudomme was one tough woman. Standing at maybe five feet tall and wiry almost to an extreme, she was the only woman in a forty-strong platoon of male infantry soldiers.

And do you know what? Without a doubt, she was in the top quarter of the platoon when it came to performance. This woman was as mentally tough, or more likely, more mentally tough than any other guy in this outfit. Endurance-wise, she marched in step with her fellows at all times, and I never ever saw her complain about anything. In every respect, it is my clear recollection that Private Prudhomme deserved to be in the infantry while more than a few guys in that same platoon did not.  

But Private Prudhomme was one woman in an infantry unit of forty men. This would have been back in 1994. Today, I expect that there might be a handful more women who sign up for the combat arms trades. But in reality, and with few exceptions, men make up the vast, vast majority of fighting trades in the CAF. Seeing that the CAF’s number one responsibility is fighting wars, it should stand to reason that men should be the CAF’s number one marketing target.

Yet, as mentioned above, I could find no government-produced videos targeting this critical demographic.

Here’s the bottom line regarding this particular point of my argument. What are the vast majority of young men interested in outside of connecting with the opposite sex? Adventure, risk, excitement, fun, physical and mental challenge, and the prospect of joining something bigger than themselves.

What young men are interested in is not rocket science. But if it’s this straightforward why aren’t the marketing gurus working for the CAF targeting this population with its millions in marketing dollars? It’s a question we’ll address below.

Before we leave this topic, I think it’s important to mention that the CAF isn’t the only military struggling to recruit new soldiers. South of the border, the US is facing its own self-manufactured crisis. The reasons they’re struggling are the same reasons we’re struggling. But by way of an exhibit, I give you two of the US Army’s most recent truly horrible recruitment videos (exhibit Emma and exhibit David). One wonders if one could create a worse attempt at generating interest in a military service.

3) Elites Run Canada. Canadians aren’t stupid. They know when they’re being talked down to and being bullied. And Canadians (like most people on this planet) know instinctively when someone is genuinely interested in making their lives better.

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND – Jan 25, 2018: Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada Chrystia Freeland at World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018 in Davos, Switzerland

I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining the elite pedigree of Canada’s current political leadership. Their bona fides in the area are well documented. I will say that there was a time when I had hope for the Liberal when they came to power.

A capable, well-funded military could have offered the Liberals two important political outcomes: 2) good jobs for young and working-class Canadians; and 2) a means to distinguish the Liberals from the Steven Harper Conservatives, by engaging in foreign policy endeavors that are more in line with the political psyche of Canadians, namely peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.

But the Liberals have not realized this opportunity. Instead, they have funded the CAF to a bare minimum and have put all of their energies into programs or strategies that reinforce the notion the Liberal Party of Canada thinks Canadians are a bunch of rubes that are incapable of administering their lives in a way that is in their own best interest.

Examples of such elitist initiatives include:

Massive Deficit Spending. While everyday Canadians need to carefully manage their inflating dollars, the federal government spends money like a drunken sailor who has double-dosed on cocaine and a four-pack of Red Bull. And the response to Canadians regarding this profligate spending: “Budgets balance themselves.” When the current government plays only occasional lip service to the notion of fiscal responsibility, Canadians notice. As Canada’s finances get worse with each passing year, it is the classic situation of the elite all-knowing politician telling the unwashed masses, to do as they says not as she/he does. It is as galling as it is hypocritical.

Response to the Pandemic. For reasons of word count, I can’t get into the litany of mistakes and hypocrisy that has been demonstrated by the Liberal government over the past two years. The one thing I will point to however is the ease with which the entire Liberal caucus green-lit the invocation of the Emergencies Act in response to the winter 2022 trucker protest.

This course of action reeked to the highest heavens of Ottawa bubble elitism. In this case, the unwashed masses would not comply with a raft of overreaching and authoritarian policies. Rather than talking with these folks and giving them a listen (which in fact is a very Canadian thing to do), our cosseted and well-protected politicians made the highly questionable decision to: unleash the Emergencies Act, freeze bank accounts, support the doxing of Canadian citizens, and to castigate an obnoxious but entirely peaceful group of protesters as a number of terrible and entirely unwarranted things.

Canadians are not dummies. They understand big picture issues and as much as any country, they know a bully when they see one. With all of these elite driven policy outcomes, is it any wonder why young people are not signing up to join the military?

4) The Naivete of Today’s Young Canadian. This is going to seem like an attack on Generation Z, but is not. Instead, Gen Z and to a large extent Millennials have been failed by the Canadian government and its non-effort to help younger Canadians understand they live in a dangerous world and that service to others and personal sacrifice is needed to maintain the gains that Western democracies have leveraged since the end of WWII.

By and large, young Canadians don’t understand sacrifice. Setting aside our Afghanistan commitment, it’s been nearly eighty years since the last major world conflict. Here’s an interesting fact: did you know that during the last two years of WW II no less than 6,267 Canadians were killed flying bombers over Europe? That’s 8.5 men a day for two years straight. Canada was in Afghanistan for nine years (2002 to 2011) and only 158 soldiers were killed during that period. Thankfully, Canada has not experienced anything like 9/11 or the November 13, 2015 Paris shootings in which 130 French were killed and an additional 500 were seriously wounded.

If you are under the age of 35 and living in Canada, it is highly unlikely you’ve met a veteran of WWII, you won’t have a first-hand recollection of the Cold War, and the wholesale slaughter of millions of Cambodians, hundreds of thousands of Hutus and Tutsis are events entirely unknown to you.

Considering how prosperous and cosseted young people are today, is it any wonder there is little to no appreciation for how quickly things could go to shit? With things this good, why would today’s generation of young people feel any compulsion toward joining the one institution that is the most responsible for what it is they enjoy today?

5) Post-Modern Values. I’ve saved the point that is having the biggest impact for last.

In the news media article cited above regarding the CAF’s recruiting woes, the spokesperson for the military made a statement to the following effect: we’re only interested in recruiting people that hold our values.

What are these values this person is speaking of? Why does she not articulate them more clearly?

The values she is talking about are the values being espoused by the current Canadian government and it is these values that are turning more and more young men away from the economy, from post-secondary education, and professions and leadership opportunities in an array of roles and professions across society. It is these same values that are turning men away from signing up for the CAF.

Let’s get specific here because clarity on this matter is crucial. Consider the following:

  • When you hyper-emphasize the recruitment of one group of people over another, the marginalized group cannot help but feel unwanted.
  • When you carelessly lump in a perfectly normal majority of people with a group of overzealous bigots (the male population vs white nationalists), you alienate and drive away that well-meaning segment of the population. 
  • When you automatically associate large swaths of a population with such behaviors as sexual harassment, sexual assault, misogyny, and cultural intolerance you cow and dissuade this same part of the population from engaging in society in all sorts of ways.
  • When you tell a population (e.g., men from all cultural/racial backgrounds) their natural gifts (strength, leadership, the defence of the weak, and physical excellence) are things to be avoided, these people will discontinue their pursuit of these attributes or will pursue them in arenas that are not obvious to society (e.g., video games).

There are other points that could be made, but this gives you the gist. What sane person would look to join an organization that is peddling in this type of thinking. The answer is very few.

The CAF’s inability recruit young men (and not just young white men) is a canary in the coal mine for a raft of organizations and opportunities in society. The question that is now confronts the CAF is whether or not it will be able to turn around and vacate the mine before they’re overtaken by the noxious gases that are being produced by a small but vocal segment of society?

Final thoughts. Now, before I end this post, I suspect it might be helpful to briefly lay out a number of other points that lend context to the argument I’ve made above. These are:

  • People should be prosecuted for inappropriate behaviours. Full stop. Whether it is sexual assault, hazing, etc. The RCMP, Hockey Canada, universities, the CAF – all should vigorously address these issues as they happen and implement programs to change cultures over time.
  • Diversity is a Canadian strength. Diversity in people leads to a diversity in ideas and this gives Canada a colossal advantage relative other countries. In my novels, I am intentional in trying to cast diversity in my cast of characters. If the CAF is going to hit its targets it must recruit from diverse populations.
TORONTO, ON – JULY 16: Soldiers of the Canadian armed forces march along the highway during 2017 Honda Indycar Series Race in Toronto at Exhibition Place in Toronto, ON, Canada on July 16 2017

Importantly, in stating these two principles and in advocating for their implementation, you do not have to castigate, besmirch, belittle, and ultimately repulse that part of the population that forms the largest pool of people that makes up your organization – namely, men.

Hear this good reader: smart and thoughtful people can address a culture of sexism and recruit diversity while still welcoming, supporting, and building up the core group that has sacrificed themselves for the freedom of this country since Canada became a country.

There is an imperative for Canada to defend itself. There is an imperative for Canada to do its fair share in the defence of its major alliances and the democracy it holds dear. If we do not have the people to do this, we are a failure as a modern and successful country. The CAF’s inability to recruit is a symptom of something that is happening in our society. This symptom is now impacting the federal government’s most central and important responsibility. The ability to defend its people and the land we call home.

Good reader, I ask you, if you cannot defend yourself, your loved ones, and your closest friends from the bad people and bullies that are to confront you from time to time, who are you?

The answer: eventually, you are no one. If it is not the case now, eventually – say in two to three years, this will be true of Canada if something isn’t done to address the concerns I’ve addressed above. Canada needs a robust military, but to have a robust military, it must be able to recruit men. Men of all shapes, races, creeds and religions. Women too, but mostly men.      

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