Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Military sets out to trim all but essential civilian staff

Canada's military has 3,500 more civilian employees - 14 per cent - than it is supposed to, according to documents that say the critical overstaffing needs to be fixed through "zero growth" and attrition.

"The civilian work force at DND is currently approximately 28,500 [full-time-equivalents] which exceeds the mandated target [of 25,000]and must be rigorously managed," say Defence Department memos obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The memos contemplate slowly rolling back some of the staffing levels added during the decade-long Afghanistan deployment, during which civilians were hired to support troops in Canada and in-theatre. The Canadian combat mission is to be scaled down in coming months, with a rump of troops staying behind to take on a new mission training Afghan security forces.

Story continues below advertisement

With a budget of nearly $20-billion, the Department of National Defence is the Canadian government's largest bureaucracy by far. Its civilian ranks include everyone from cooks to cryptographers, psychologists to procurement officials.

The military's No. 2, Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, points out that its 20-year-strategy document - known as Canada First Defence Strategy - dictates that the ranks of the civilian staff should top out at 25,000. The policy envisions the ranks of soldiers, reservists and civilians holding more or less steady from now until 2028.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty last spring asked DND to reduce its annual budget increase from 8 per cent to 2 per cent, a belt-tightening measure that's supposed to be in place for years to come, with billions of dollars in potential savings.

Despite this austerity, the Conservative government still hopes to buy expensive military hardware - including F-35 jet fighters costing about $16-billion over 20 years - as well as new office space for DND and a signals-intelligence sub-agency, the Communications Security Establishment.

Canada's military consists of some 65,000 uniformed soldiers, 30,000 reservists and the 28,500 civilian staff. The generals are now urging their commanders to make only "essential" civilian hires - with an eye to shedding jobs over time. "Management measures are therefore necessary to immediately stop the growth of the current civilian work force. In concert we must also generate the necessary flexibility through attrition," reads one memo, circulated Oct. 10 from officials inside DND headquarters.

It's anticipated that the ranks of the reservists will have to come down too, though no plans for that have been announced. "The current civilian FTE [full-time-equivalent]count and level of Reserve full-time service is unsustainable over the long term and so needs to be rationalized," reads a memo circulated by Adm. Donaldson on Oct. 13.

The Defence Department continues to hire more civilians, however. According to the "DND Jobs" website - a recruiting tool that touts the military's "great pay and great benefits" - the Canadian Forces still has dozens, perhaps hundreds, of civilian job openings.

Story continues below advertisement

This includes an unspecified number of cooks and cleaners at hourly wages of up to $25 and $17, respectively.

White-collar professionals are being head-hunted too. There are openings on military bases for 10 social workers at up to $73,500 a year. DND is also looking to hire an as yet undetermined number of psychologists, who are to earn similar wages.

There is also a posting for five DND "real-estate asset managers," who may be paid up to $87,000 a year.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.