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Sailor shortage causing headaches for Royal Canadian Navy

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  • OTTAWA — A shortage of sailors is making it hard for the Royal Canadian Navy to operate its ships and work on replacing them at the same time, according to a senior naval officer.

    The revelation by Commodore Steve Waddell, head of naval strategic readiness, follow similar concerns from the Royal Canadian Air Force about the difficult choices it is facing thanks to a shortage of experienced pilots.

    Taken together, they underscore the severe personnel challenges facing some parts of the Canadian Forces, which tend to be overshadowed by the numerous problems facing the military procurement system.

    In fact, Waddell indicated during a presentation to a defence conference this week that the navy’s personnel shortages could threaten the Trudeau government’s “ambitious” defence policy.

    That policy — entitled Strong, Secure, Engaged — says the military must be able to conduct several missions at the same time. It also sets aside billions of dollars for upgrades to the navy, including new warships and modernized submarines.

    Some of those projects have already been delayed, such as the construction of new support ships, though the blame for many of those delays rests outside of the navy and with private shipyards or other federal departments.

    The navy nonetheless has its work cut out for it, including imminent talks with U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin and Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax to decide the final design for its new $60-billion fleet of warships.

    “In terms of delivering on Strong, Secure, Engaged, what I think is going to really fundamentally be a constraint in the next little while is the reality of the workforce,” Waddell said.

    While the navy is at least 10 per cent short of trained sailors, he said it is facing a shortfall of up to 40 per cent in some places when sailors it does have are unavailable because of training, medical problems or other reasons.

    “So when you’re trying to deploy and have a forward presence … while at the same time trying to account for the institutional needs of delivering on Strong, Secure, and Engaged, you can imagine the bit of a dance that’s in front of us.”

    The navy’s problem is different from the air force’s: the navy is struggling to simply recruit people while the air force is losing experienced pilots to civilian jobs.

    Yet there are also parallels, as Waddell said the navy, like much of the rest of the military, is fighting industry for employees at a time when unemployment is low, demographics are changing and there are other opportunities for people.

    Not that the navy is completely without a plan. Waddell and others have talked about using technology, particularly in its new ships, to ease the navy’s personnel requirements as well as attract a new generation of recruits.

    In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, navy commander Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd talked about using artificial intelligence to ease workload and the addition of wireless networks to ships as areas where change is coming.

    “What does it mean to be a digital navy is what we’re focused on,” he said. “I think that’s going to be key to our ability to attract (people) and then recruit them and then hopefully retain them.”

    — Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

    Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


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    Construction

    Three instances when SNC-case was discussed with Wilson-Raybould, clerk says

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  • OTTAWA — Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, appeared at the House of Commons justice committee Thursday, to answer questions about his knowledge on the SNC-Lavalin affair and whether former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured not to prosecute the company.

    Wernick predicted Wilson-Raybould will express concerns about three meetings when she appears at the committee next week, two of which he attended and all of which he maintained did not cross the line into improper pressure on Wilson-Raybould.

    Here is Wernick’s version of those events:

    Sept. 17, 2018

    A meeting involving Wilson-Raybould, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Wernick, two weeks after the director of public prosecutions decided not to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin. 

    Wernick said Trudeau called the meeting to discuss the Indigenous rights recognition framework which had bogged down due to “a very serious policy difference” between Wilson-Raybould and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, and other colleagues, about how to proceed on the framework.

    Almost the entire meeting was devoted to that subject, he said, but Trudeau did also reassure Wilson-Raybould that any decision on whether to instruct the public prosecutor to drop the SNC-Lavalin prosecution was hers alone.

    Dec. 18, 2018

    A meeting between the prime minister’s staff and Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff. Wernick, who wasn’t involved, did not provide any details.

    Dec. 19, 2018

    A conversation between Wilson-Raybould and Wernick.

    Wernick said he was trying to get a handle on the issues that might confront the government when Parliament resumed sitting in January. He wanted to know, among other things, whether a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin was still an option and said he “conveyed to her that a lot of her colleagues and the prime minister were quite anxious about what they were hearing and reading in the business press … about the company moving or closing” if the prosecution continued. There were fears it would have consequences for innocent employees, shareholders, pensioners, third-party suppliers and affected communities.

    Wernick said he’s confident the conversation was “within the boundaries of what’s lawful and appropriate. I was informing the minister of context. She may have another view of the conversation but that’s something that the ethics commissioner could sort out.”

    The Canadian Press


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    National

    Canadian shares story of abuse with church officials ahead of Vatican summit

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  • One by one, a dozen survivors shared their shattering tales of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy with high-ranking church officials gathered to listen to the stories they’d declined to hear for years.

    Leona Huggins, the only Canadian in the gathering that took place ahead of a historic summit at the Vatican this week, said the energy built “like a tsunami” as victims hailing from Spain to Jamaica urged clergy to take concrete action to begin a new chapter for the church.

    But she said the tide ebbed quickly as soon as the harrowing accounts were presented.

    Huggins said one archbishop reacted by saying “I guess we’ll have to get to work,” prompting her to ask why such work had not already begun. That question was answered with a demand to be respectful, she said, eroding hope that this week’s summit meant to tackle sexual abuse in clerical ranks would result in true change.

    “We were truth-tellers in that room,” the Vancouver-based school teacher said in a telephone interview from Rome. “It’s really hard for me to think how anyone could hear those stories and not take courageous action.”

    Huggins, 56, had limited hopes for the international meeting, called by Pope Francis in a bid to quell a scandal that has dogged his tenure as head of the Catholic Church.

    The pontiff himself was not at the gathering of survivors held a day before the official summit got underway Thursday, a point that did not sit well with those who shared their stories.

    Huggins, who has gone public with her story of abuse, said her experience played out like so many others. She said she was groomed and ultimately abused by a Catholic priest who worked in her British Columbia parish in the early 1970s.

    He was ultimately convicted in 1991 of sexual offences against two women, including Huggins, but continued working as a priest in communities ranging from Lethbridge, Alta., to Ottawa until his death in 2018.

    Huggins, who used some of her time at the closed-door gathering to call for recognition of Canadian Indigenous victims of abuse, said the Pope’s presence would have been an important sign that the church was serious about addressing past wrongs and preventing new ones from unfolding.

    Pope Francis expressed many high-minded intentions at the summit’s official opening on Thursday, acknowledging the need for concrete action and significant, internal change.

    “Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” he told the gathering. “The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established.”

    People from five continents shared their stories of abuse, including an unnamed woman from Africa who told the gathering of the three abortions her former priest forced her to have during the decades in which he raped her.

    The Pope, for his part, handed out a list of 21 proposals for the church to consider, including specific protocols to handle accusations against bishops.

    One idea called for raising the minimum age for marriage to 16 while another suggested a basic handbook showing bishops how to investigate cases.

    But for Huggins, the specifics of the 21 points did even more than Wednesday’s gathering to chip away at what little optimism remains, lamenting the newly raised minimum age is still wildly out of step with societal norms and criticizing the church for not having a handbook in circulation long ago.

    Huggins said she feels she still has to “hold out hope” that leaders will make good on their promises of reform. If they don’t, she said, she fears an entirely new generation would be at risk.

    “I don’t see how anyone can continue to bring their child to a church that will not promise their child’s safety,” she said.

    — with Files from the Associated Press.

    Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press


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