[This post was written before the latest news about Lt.Gen Cadieu and Admiral McDonald]
I didn't expected to be doing this much writing/talking about the Canadian military when I moved to Canada twenty years ago. My new title was Canada Research Chair in International Security and Ethnic Conflict, which was confusing since I was neither Canadian nor did I study Canada. Over the course of time, and perhaps inevitably, both of those conditions changed. I have been Canadian for six years as of this month, and my work on NATO and Canada's work in NATO led me to the study of Canadian defence politics. My work moved from the IR of ethnic conflict to civil-military relations, with a very comparative focus. Asking questions about Canada's role in Afghanistan ultimately led to a project on legislatures across the world's democracies and the role they play in civilian oversight over the armed forces.
In that project on NATO in Afghanistan, I ended up interviewing many senior Canadian officers including the Chief of the Defence Staff at the time, Rick Hillier, the Vice Chief who would later become Chief, Walt Natynczyk, and Major General Jon Vance, who would later become chief. I didn't interact with CDS Tom Lawson until deep into his tour when he gave an off-the-record chat at NPSIA.* I never met Admiral Art McDonald who lasted four Scaramooches in that role [despite his desire to return, it will stay at forty or so days]. I did meet then-LtGen Chief Wayne Eyre at the Kingston International Security Conference when he was just returning from his tour in South Korea and was starting his role as Chief of the Army. We then had him and Deputy Minister Jody Thomas on our podcast this past spring. In that podcast, both he and Thomas said that they listen to our podcast. Which is pretty cool but really?
Apparently, really, as I got contacted a few days ago by his assistant to arrange a call to chat about stuff I had raised in the most recent episode (around the 14th minute mark). So, we then chatted for about thirty minutes about the personnel issues that Stef and I discussed in the podcast and then some other stuff. I basically suggested in the podcast that without civilian oversight, the CDS could just appoint whoever he wanted, and that it could produce an Old Boys Network, as has been rumored about Vance's decisions. I keep pointing to the decision to give Vice Hadyn Admiral Edmundson the spot of heading the CAF's personnel command as emblematic because Edmundson had escaped any career-harming consequences from being accused of sexual assault years ago--his nickname of Mulligan Man came from that. I found that decision particularly problematic since navies are known for firing captains for running their ships into a rock--a one-time event, but assaulting one's staff is not a career destroyer? Eyre could not speak to Edmundson's elevation to Chief of Personnel since Vance did that.
What Eyre could speak to are the changes in the process by which senior leaders are promoted and selected for specific jobs. He and his staff put together a set of materials--past evaluations, psychometric testing that assess character, leadership, problem-solving skills, etc. The evaluations of past performance are different now--the so-called 360 evaluations which involve not just superiors but peers and subordinates is no longer limited to ... those the candidate chooses. That's right, if I understand General Eyre correctly, the old system was one where the candidate could choose whose evaluations would count in their promotion process. Now, the very new process is anonymous, random, blind, and diverse, which should produce more accurate assessments. A board, including civilians, take these reports and assessments to build a score that is compared with the scores of the others who are eligible, which then leads to pools of folks who are eligible for promotion and those who need more time in rank. Is there a third pool of those who should be frozen or kicked out? I should have asked that. Anyhow, once the pool of promotable officers is determined, they figure out who is fit for which jobs, and then that package of information is given to the minister for approval.
And there is the question I really wanted to ask but knew the general could not answer: does the Minister actually read the packages or is it a rubber stamp? "Is the Minister doing his job?" is not a question that the General would answer, so I didn't bother asking it.
I then asked about the case of Major General Peter Dawe, who was given a new job once his suspension was over--one that was presented in the media as the person responsible for reading the reports from the various retired Supreme Court justices and vetting recommendations for how to reform the Canadian Armed Forces. While averring that the media didn't quite get Dawe's new job right, Eyre admitted that he made mistakes in this process, that it should not have happened. I compared this decision with that regarding Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, the chief of the navy who had played golf with disgraced former Chief of Defence Jon Vance. That it was pretty clear that the Baines decision involved much consultation, and when it was made, Eyre explained it. The Dawe decision was not transparent. Part of this was that this all happened during the election period, where folks in government do not make big announcements.** Both decisions attracted much fire, including from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.*** I think Eyre was on stronger ground with the first decision because he was able to explain it as it happened. I do think that these cases are hard decisions as the CAF can't/won't/shouldn't fire every officer who has made a mistake. Indeed, in our conversation, Eyre said that one of the issues he is giving to Lt.General Jennie Carignan, Chief of Professional Conduct (who was on the second episode of our podcast), is to figure out how to bring back some of the people who have done wrong. There needs to be greater accountability. Eyre taking the blame for this decision is a good step, but they need to do better--that Dawe could be given another leadership post but not one that involved sexual misconduct issues.
I hope that when Parliament returns that the Defence Committee holds a hearing where they can ask General Eyre about this decision. I also hope that the Prime Minister selects a new person to be Defence Minister so that we can have more confidence in the civilians who should be overseeing Eyre. I do think that Eyre got a mighty tough hand to play, given that his two immediate predecessors are, well, disgraced. Eyre did not get a proper handover of this job, and he has been reacting to this crisis on the fly. From our conversation, it is clear there are changes being made, but then, so are mistakes. The changes that need to take place are multidimensional, have to take place at all levels, and involve a lot of different actors. It involves legal reform (the Fish report), it involves changing the culture of the CAF (our Year Ahead conference will have a session dedicated to organizational change), it involves greater exercise of civilian control, and more.
There is still a lot I don't know and don't understand. One of the
questions a new Defence Minister will have to face is whether to keep
Eyre around as CDS. I believed before this conversation that Eyre is trying hard to do the right things and should be given more time. I also believed before this conversation that it was not clear that chucking Eyre would solve any problems and might deepen the ones they have--that there has been so much turmoil at the top of the CAF, that it is hard to make progress in any direction. The Vice Chief position has changed about six times over the past five years or so--and the Vice Chief is the one who is supposed to administrate the CAF. This chat has not changed my mind, but has probably increased my bias a bit. I can't help but feel a bit favorably to a person who lets me see inside the tent.
Reaching out to the random loud academic may be part of an information operations campaign--to make the CAF look better. But I am not sure I am a reliable messenger, as I can be pretty critical. This does remind me of being part of a group of academics sent to Afghanistan in late 2007--was the effort to inform us or to shape the messaging? And, the answer, of course, is both. That if we understood the mission better, we might be more sympathetic and at least our criticisms would be better informed.
Anyhow, I think I understand some of the processes better, but I am still very frustrated by the state of civilian control of the military in Canada. It is not just on the military to think about this stuff or to be blamed when things go awry.
* Lawson didn't say anything of interest that day--for an off-the-record chat, it was pretty tightly scripted.
** I have always found this to be strange. I once was invited to give a talk to replace the Canadian Consul General to Boston during an Afghanistan event in 2011 since it fell in during the election period. Eyre made it clear that this year's election made communicating about the withdrawal from Afghanistan quite difficult.
*** My reaction each time Trudeau and Freeland criticize the military is to remind them that they have kept around a Defence Minister who does not see oversight of the CDS as being part of his job. So, they have no one else to blame but themselves.