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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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    Soldiers deploying to flood-prone areas as water levels rise in New Brunswick

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  • FREDERICTON — About 120 Canadian soldiers will soon be deployed in western New Brunswick to help residents threatened by rising floodwaters.

    The soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in southern New Brunswick have been tasked with helping fill sandbags and assisting with evacuating homes, if necessary.

    Lt.-Col. Sean French, commander of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, says the soldiers are also prepared to conduct “wellness checks” in various communities, using heavy vehicles that can move through deep water.

    Water levels in the Saint John River Basin are expected to rise significantly over the next few days, reaching or passing flood stage in several areas.

    With heavy rain expected to continue through the day, particularly in northern New Brunswick, residents of 15 communities have been warned to remain on high alert.

    Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, says the rising waters are sure to lead to road closures in several areas, particularly in the Fredericton area and communities farther south.

     

    The Canadian Press



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    Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press




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