Today, finally, the cabinet was shuffled, and we have a new Minister of National Defence: Anita Anand. She was Minister of Public Services and Procurement, so she has ministerial experience and she has experience with procurement. Indeed, since that spot shares responsibility with MND for big military procurement projects, that part of the MND job will be pretty familiar. She was successful in getting Canada heaps of vaccines, which was not easy (see other countries that have failed at that task). And, yes, she's a woman, which is symbolic given the sexual misconduct crisis that has been in the news the past eight months or so (and, of course, goes all the way back).
To be clear, add woman and stir is not enough. Adding super smart, experienced, competent woman is better but still not enough. She will need much support from PMO and PCO and from the Prime Minister to address problems that are deep and wide. The first responsibility is to understand the job--that the Minister of National Defence is the key person in Canada's civilian control of the military. The previous officeholder didn't get that. This means not just managing the Chief of Defence Staff but making sure that the Department of National Defence is not pushed out of matters that the CAF (or the CDS anyway) does not want it messing with. Deputy Minister Jody Thomas said on the Battle Rhythm podcast that General Jon Vance, when he was CDS, was kept out of the sexual misconduct response. That can't happen again.
But getting back to managing the CDS, Anand must fix the confusion about that spot--either name Eyre as CDS rather than Acting CDS or find a new one AND tell Admiral Art McDonald to retire. Or else? Yes, or else he will be charged with insubordination (or whatever is the equivalent for his incredibly misconceived letter he sent around). Anyhow, much clarity is required about the leadership at the top. She will have to make clear to those at the top that they will be overseen more closely than they have been used to. Folks in the CAF might complain about micromanagement, but (a) management involves the layer or two below you while micromanagement is managing very distant folks as if they are the layer below; and (b) the CAF has shown that left their own devices, they have an abuse of power and sexual misconduct problem.
What else? Decisions have to be made on fighter replacement (F-35s or whatever), the design for the new frigates, the costs and design of modernization of the northern warning systems, etc. So, heaps of procurement stuff. Operations? What role does Canada have in Iraq these days? How can the CAF make sure it is not training wannabe Nazis in Ukraine? Personnel? Oy. How can the CAF recruit and retain a more diverse force, how can it get rid of the white supremacists in its midst, etc. The sexual misconduct crisis will require many axes of effort, including setting up more independent investigative/prosecution/judicial processes. There have been many recommendations by previous reviews so those need to be implemented while we await Arbour's review. Indeed, she should not wait for Arbour--that there is plenty of stuff to do that should be done without waiting for a retired Supreme Court justice to tell them to do it.
This is a really tough job. Unless Anand gets help, she will be set up to fail. If she can handle this job well, she should be rewarded handsomely with not just glory but more influence in the Liberal party. The good news for her? There is much expertise that she can tap into as she works on this stuff. That crises provide political openings to make change. It will be very hard for anyone in the CAF to argue that the old ways have been working just fine. As I learned a long time ago from Peter Gourevitch's Politics in Hard Times, crises break previous coalitions allowing political entrepreneurs to build new ones to support reform.
But there will be resistance and there will be old habits and cultures are hard to change. It will require Anand to work really hard and to keep her eye on many different spinning plates. I don't envy her. I am glad that the long overdue change has been made, and I have a fair amount of confidence that the Prime Minister chose the best person for the job.