CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum
CFB Esquimalt
Naval & Military Museum
Controversies

Integration and Unification of the Canadian Forces

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CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum
Controversies
Integration and Unification of the Canadian Forces

In 1964 the Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson tabled its White Paper on Defence. The White Paper proposed an integrated administrative structure for the Canadian Armed Forces under a single Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The arguments for integration were plausible and the new structure was implemented and accepted with some reservations by the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Then in 1966, a bill was introduced to unify the forces. Unification proposed abolition of the three traditional services, and introduction of a common rank structure and uniform. Unification was strongly resisted, particularly by the RCN, and resulted in the firing of its senior operational commander.

The Pearson government's White Paper stated that contemporary and future defence tasks required a reorganization of Canada's armed forces and a reshaping of the force structure. The government argued that the traditional organization of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), each with its own operational command structure and service chief, would not meet the challenges of the future. The White Paper proposed reorganization of the administrative structure of the three services into one Defence Staff under a single Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). This would be the first step toward a single unified defence force for Canada.

Integration of the Canadian services was not a new concept. The first attempt to integrate defence activities began after World War I, but the experiment was abandoned before World War II. At the end of the war, a traditional organization based on the British Commonwealth model existed. Each of the three services was governed by its own legislative statute and had a Minister, Service Chief and Associate Deputy Minister. There was a Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), but there was no formal mechanism to coordinate activities of the three services. In 1946, the Liberal government launched a series of defence management reorganization initiatives. A single Minister of National Defence was appointed. The Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee was given authority to coordinate interservice activities, including developing defence policy for consideration by the government, and a set of interservice "Joint" Committees were created. Also, a single Deputy Minister (DM) became responsible for non-operational administration of finance, supply, personnel, and pay.

The National Defence Act (NDA) of 1950 consolidated all purely defence-related statutes. The statute charged the Chairman, COSC with "achieving integration of functions and commonality in pay, regulations, service conditions and a code of service discipline." The Chiefs of Staff Committee, that now included the Deputy Minister as a member, was mandated to advise the Government on the full range of military activities including defence policy, strategy, inter-service training, plans and operations, and service rank structures. This committee operated by consensus and disagreements were referred to the Minister. The NDA (1950) confirmed and reinforced the independent authority of service chiefs for the administration and operation of their respective services and their direct access to the Minister. The Deputy Minister chaired a new Estimates and Review Committee consisting of the Chairman COSC, the Secretary of the Treasury Board, and the DM of Defence Production to ensure that only approved programs appeared in the budget estimates. Later initiatives included the amalgamation of the service colleges and integration of the medical, postal and chaplains' services.

In 1960, the government was concerned that spending by the various departments was out of control. The Department of Defence was particularly suspect because it was allocated 25% of the government's budget in direct spending, and had incurred large cost overruns in major acquisition projects. The Royal Commission on Government Organization (the Glassco Commission) was established to inquire into the organization and methods of all departments and agencies of the federal government. With regard to Defence, the Glassco Commission, reporting in 1963, noted that the "administrative tail" of the armed forces was growing, and "whether or not a case could be made for unification, there were strong reasons for integrating common elements of the three services." It also noted that there should be provision for the Chairman, COSC to exercise control over the common elements or functions of the armed forces. This meant that common administrative, supply, and other like functions conducted by the three services should be integrated

Paul Hellyer, Minister of Defense
Paul Hellyer, Minister of Defense

The Liberals were back in power in 1963, and the new Minister of Defence, Paul Hellyer, determined to make his mark, seized on the recommendations of the Glassco Commission. Hellyer took many of the Commission's recommendations further in drafting the White Paper of 1964 that signaled the intention to integrate the armed forces. A single unified force would follow. There would be a single Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). A new Defence Council consisting only of the Chief and Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff would replace the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The principle of "functionalism" would be implemented at headquarters, thereby abolishing the three separate service chiefs and their service boards. All personnel, operations, policy and materiel activities of the three services were to be combined into Divisions, each led by a Lieutenant General or Vice Admiral.

Bill C-90 "An Act to Amend the National Defence Act" was enacted on 1 August 1964 and the integrated headquarters structure under a CDS came into being. Within the three services there had been support for some aspects of integration to eliminate duplication, streamline the command structure, and create economies that would make funds available for capital acquisition projects. There also had been dissatisfaction with the existing tri-service committee system that proved unworkable and created administrative "gridlock" at headquarters. The government's promise of efficiencies that would free up funds to replace aging equipment was a strong selling point.

Rear Admiral W. M. Landymore
Rear Admiral W.M. Landymore

While the Canadian armed forces were struggling with the administrative adjustments of integration, suddenly unification was thrust upon them and created severe shock waves. In 1966, Bill C-243, the Canadian Forces Reorganization Act, was introduced by the government. It was hotly debated both in Parliament and the defence department. Unification would abolish the three services, replacing them with generic structures called "elements". Traditional ranks and uniforms would disappear to be replaced by a common rank structure using army terms and a single "walking out uniform". Unification was greeted with hostility and strongly resisted by the services, particularly the RCN. The navy's opposition resulted in the firing of its senior operational commander, Rear Admiral W.M. Landymore.

The major flaws in the unification policy were that both its rationale and means of implementation were obscure. Its architect, Paul Hellyer, had not spelled out how unification would take place and left the defence portfolio at the most critical point of implementation. Hellyer moved to the Ministry of Transport in 1967, abandoning his unification project and leaving the armed forces to muddle through in chaos. He later left the Liberal party and disappeared from the political scene after losing to Pierre Trudeau in a bid to become prime minister. Many observed that Hellyer believed unification would help achieve his ambition to replace Lester Pearson.

The act came into effect on 1 February 1968. The services donned a common green uniform and were left alone to implement unification. This was not a success owing to a lack of policy direction from the government and latent internal resistance within the old services. Defence was a low priority for Prime Minister Trudeau and the minister's office was fitted with a revolving door to accommodate frequent changes. Reorganization followed reorganization. The much vaunted financial savings never materialized and equipment rusted out. The armed forces languished and operational capabilities diminished. Separate service uniforms were reintroduced in 1986 and the service chiefs were reinstated and returned to National Defence Headquarters in 1997. In 2005, the CDS, General R.J. Hillier, announced an initiative to introduce a joint force management structure in the Canadian Forces to make them more "streamlined, integrated and effective." This had a familiar Canadian ring to it.

Rear Admiral Jeffry Brock
Rear Admiral Jeffry Brock

Rear Admiral Jeffry Brock, DSO, DSC, CD, RCN, was serving as Vice Chief of Naval Staff in Ottawa in the early 1960s when he was forced to retire over his opposition to unification. In "The Thunder and the Sunshine", the second volume of his memoirs, Brock gave a scathing account of the unification effort and criticized the Canadian public for its apathy:

" Canadian politicians are not and never have been interested in defence," he wrote, adding "the Canadian public cannot escape a share of the blame. Too many of our people think that all we enjoy was always there, was not fought for, will just continue, without our personal attention. We are no longer pulling our weight in international affairs. While some reasonable degree of freedom still remains for us under our form of government, we must face the fact that this freedom will soon disappear unless we exercise our rights wisely. We must take greater pains to ensure that we are well enough informed to choose wise leaders - perhaps, great leaders. "

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