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Military bases struggling with personnel shortages, internal review finds


OTTAWA — An internal review by the Department of National Defence has revealed Canadian military bases across the country are struggling with several problems, starting with severe shortages of personnel.

While Canadian Armed Forces bases are critical to supporting military operations in Canada and abroad, the review found that they are the lowest priority for assigning trained and healthy troops.

Troops are instead prioritized into positions where they can conduct and support missions, recruit and train members, as well as manage military equipment.

"The base staffing priority resulted in shortages of CAF members in identified positions," reads the report, which was recently published on the Defence Department's website.  

"The focus on staffing high-category...positions with operational personnel results in personnel shortages being absorbed by lower category units such as bases."

That prioritization also means when troops are injured, on parental leave or otherwise unavailable, they are often swapped for able-bodied troops working at bases, leaving those bases even more shorthanded.

The result was that the average base has about three-quarters of required personnel actually working, with Canadian Forces Base Halifax flagged as a serious concern with 62 per cent able to work.

While the shortages pose a threat to military operations and other activities, the reviewers also found shortages create a "cycle in work fatigue."

That in turn hurts the military's ability to recruit and retain troops, which has been flagged as a concern for the Canadian Armed Forces in the past, and undermines its claim to be a positive workplace.

"Traditionally, the CAF utilizes base postings to provide an opportunity for a less stressful and more stable work environment enabling CAF members to reconnect with their families," the reviewers wrote.

"Interviewees stated that the base personnel shortage and resulting increase in workload and stress have negative effects on the quality of life."

In a statement to The Canadian Press, Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said bases continue to provide the necessary support to military operations and activities despite the shortages. 

"There are however activities already underway to address the shortages identified," he added. "Leadership continues to work on prioritizing the staffing of key positions to minimize the impacts on bases and wings."

The reviewers also found a disconnect between the more than a dozen military bases scattered across the country and National Defence Headquarters in terms of managing base infrastructure.

Base commanders were specifically found to "have influence but no control" over infrastructure decisions. 

"Due to different priorities, this division of authorities can lead to challenges in resolving safety and environmental issues involving infrastructure," the report reads.

"This has resulted in employees raising concerns and grievances through the chains of command about inadequate facility maintenance (e.g. asbestos management) and a lack of consultation with the civilian workforce."

The review also raises concerns with the technological support bases receive from Shared Services Canada, which took over management of most federal departments in August 2011.

Nearly one-quarter of requests for help or other support from military bases since that time were unresolved after 180 days, the report found.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 24, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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