It is the season of false dichotomies as the pushback against culture change in the Canadian Armed Forces has begun. Whether it is retired cranky dinosaur generals like Michel Maisonneuve or randos on twitter, folks have been claiming that this government has been too focused on culture change in the CAF and not enough on effectiveness/readiness/etc. This presents reforming the CAF as a distraction, turning the focus away from preparing for the next war. While it would have been fair to accuse the Trudeau government of being inattentive to defence before 2021, it is a serious mistake to suggest that the efforts to change CAF culture and institutions are a distraction.
Instead, reforming the CAF is absolutely necessary for a ready, resilient, recruited, retained, effective military. The culture of entitlement and abuse of power was not simply a minor thing that can be forgotten while one prepares to fight Russia or China. Those dynamics have made the CAF less ready, less resilient, less effective. It has driven out a heap of talented people who want to serve their country but in a functional organization where generals and admirals prioritize getting the most out of their subordinates, not getting into their pants and not giving their buddies breaks (Mulligan man named as chief of personnel, FFS!). The morale problem in the CAF is not because men have been punished for abusing their power and abusing their subordinates, but because those men thrived. If one distrusts one's commanders, that is not a recipe for an effective military.
Changing the CAF culture means promoting people who treat their subordinates decently, people who are promoted on merit rather than by an old boy's network. It means holding everyone to higher standards. It means not tolerating hate within the forces--to get rid of misogynists, homophobes, white supremacists and other haters--as war is a team sport, and one can't have a good team if some members have contempt for the rest.
There has long been much talk of what shapes unit cohesion and what harms it. Unit cohesion was cited as a reason to keep Black soldiers/sailors/aviators segregated. It was cited to keep women out of combat positions and out of the military entirely. It was cited to keep LGBTQ2+ out. But the real threat to unit cohesion was not the inclusion of these people but the reactions of those who could not tolerate having different people among them. What the CAF needs is greater inclusion.
There is a major recruitment and retention crisis, and limiting the pool of potential recruits to straight white dudes means greatly reducing the talent available to the CAF and to Canada. Changing the culture is necessary so that more people will join the CAF. It is certainly true that culture change might alienate white supremacists and misogynists in the force, leading to a smaller military in the short term. And if so, so be it--that the CAF may have to get smaller before it gets larger. But better to recruit from all of the country (except the haters) than limit to 30-40% to protect the feelings of those who can't hang with those that are different.
I do have some qualms about CAF priorities and said so during this week's defence policy update engagement session--that domestic operations should not be a lagging fourth priority--but this government's focus on developing a military that submits to civilian control, that changes its institutions and dynamics to produce a stronger, smarter, more inclusive armed forces is exactly right.
Anyone who says that one has to choose culture change or effectiveness understands neither.