Time to End the Great Hellyer Experiment
May 15, 2010

The recent announcement that Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie has been tasked with reorganizing defence, as the new Chief of Transformation, is a welcome one. I expect, knowing him personally, that he is just the kind of clear thinking, courageous and intellectual man we need for the job. I doubt that he will be much swayed by the lamentations and subtle asides that will no doubt be uttered by those who seek to maintain their “empires” for their personal-political reasons. I expect that he will listen, consult and, when ready, present a report and plan that will likely be as effective and efficient as a major World War I barrage – of the type made famous by his grandfather, the late General A.G.L. “Andy” McNaughton. I earnestly hope that he doesn’t stop at rearranging the players on the table but inspects the table as well. We need to seriously reconsider the various premises upon which our current military is based.

Why do I say that? Most other modern military forces have considered unification and determined that it is not suitable to support a modern military in the discharge of its diverse roles. Considering the costs, upheaval and the internecine battles that have been endured as a result of the integration/unification process, and the fact that many of the unsolved issues continue to haunt us to this day, we should, at the very least, reappraise the concept to determine its promise of efficiency, effectiveness, improved combat power and the better use of resources.

This management concept, along with the amalgamation of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Military Headquarters in the early 1970’s underpins our military culture, ethos and effectiveness. No other nation has followed this course of action, suggesting to their respective governments that unification is a flawed concept. They argue that our experience with the twin pillars of “unification and integration” has shown no ­evidence that a “unified military” has effectively supported the Canadian military in any operational setting. They point to our continual problems of force generation which plunders the infrastructure for personnel, the flurry of emergency purchases to procure essential equipment for the mission even though that equipment has long been proposed for procurement but stalled in an administrative quagmire of often ­con­tradictory instructions and lack of interest.
May 2010 – Sailors’ families wave as HMCS Fredericton returns home after a six-month deployment to the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa to conduct counter piracy and counter terror operations alongside our NATO and Coalition partners.
The author of Canada’s unification mess was the Minister of Defence in the last Pearson government, Mr. Paul Hellyer, who it has been said, wrote the plan on his own without any advice. So, what do we know about Mr. Heller’s Canadian Forces Reorga­nization Act? Well like most Canadians, not much. As far as the majority of Canadians are concerned, nothing much has changed; we still have a Navy, Air Force and Army. However if Canadians studied the background to the legislation and the Act itself, they well might wonder why a little-known politician would seek to significantly change a functional and efficient structure that had evolved on several thousand years as a result of war fighting and conflict. Moreover, they would wonder why he sought to replace such an entity with an unproven management theory that was, at best, speculative, and had no substantive example to follow.

After 40 years of implementation, it is now more than safe to say that the economies and benefits that were supposed to accrue, did not. In point of fact, the expected increased effectiveness of a “unified” military force also proved to be most elusive. The endless quest for new command structures, organizations and functional operational headquarters point to the fact that an organization which is predicated on suspect administrative ­proposals is likely never to emerge as an efficient war fighting organization

The amalgamation of the Department of Defence and the Canadian Forces Headquarters for ease of administration further compounded the problem by becoming essentially a “Departmental” organization. Although the power was supposed to be shared by the Deputy Minister and the Chief of the Defense Staff (CDS), it proved an unequal contest. While the CDS had most of the taskings, the Deputy Minister controlled all of the resources. Secondly, the orientation of focus for this new headquarters shifted from the Minister of National Defence to the Treasury Board and the Privy Council Office.

The Second World War had shifted leadership of the Armed Forces from civilian administration to the highest political councils. This was done because the Public Service of Canada had demonstrated during the first year of war that it was ­incapable of establishing or supporting a national war effort. For the most part, they had spent their time devising complex and restrictive rules and regulations which allowed agencies such as Treasury Board to arrogate even more administrative control over the military and other agencies.

To circumvent support and procurement problems, the government set up a separate board to conduct the purchase of war materiels. Subsequently, it determined that a board was neither large enough nor had the authority to conduct the massive workload associated with the military’s operational needs. To remedy the shortfall, the government established a powerful and independent procurement depart­ment that was armed with the authority of override administrative interventions by other government departments.

In the post war environment, the major components of the war time system were retained, albeit in a reduced state. Military procurement was handled by the Defence Procurement Board and military leadership still retained ties to their ministers and their staffs.

Under the auspices of a 1960 government wide study by the Glassco Commission, an attempt was made to reshape the military structure as just another government department. Despite the fact that a comprehensive report had been prepared by military experts, members of the commission called for the military to come under more civilian control. In short, they recommended that agencies such as the Treasury Board should usurp the role of Parliament and its legislative authority and replace it with their own administrative control mechanisms. Although some aspects of the commission’s report were acted upon, the majority of the recommendations were rejected by the government.

Very little changed organizationally for the military between 1960 and 1968; it remained fairly intact despite the commissions’ ill-advised recommendations. Then, in 1968, the Minister of National Defence sought to modernize the Canadian military and acquire new hardware and equipment to bring the military up to a comparable standard with other NATO military forces. He was told that he had to find a substantial portion of the requirement from his own resources. It was a task that he willingly took on.

There is no doubt that Mr. Hellyer earnestly believed that his vision of how a military could and should be run was the right one. He had based much of his reasoning on his prior war service; he had difficulty in understanding the various issues and problems presented by modern warfare. Mr. Hellyer’s wartime experience was revealed in the legislation and showed that he was an impatient and impulsive individual who valued his personal perceptions well above either the experience of his instructors or the reams of reports and studies that ran counter to his views.

Utilizing the newly emerging spate of management theories, Mr. Hellyer returned to Canada to became a very successful business man. However, in believing that military leadership could apply some of these new management theories to achieve economies, he revealed a serious lack of understanding of what is required to run a modern military force. He seemed not to understand how it functioned, nor the fact that the military was not a business. He could not, it appears, comprehend that any military is a major consumer of the goods and services provided by any nation’s industry and wealth. So, contrary to scholars of military logistics such a E.A. Ballantyne and H.E. Eccles – both of whom wrote extensively on the logistics interface between the country, its economy and its military – he chose to ignore their views and instead substituted a collegial administrative management system for the tried and successful military leadership.

14 May 2010 – Ramp Ceremony held at Kandahar Airfield for Private Kevin McKay who was killed by an improvised explosive device.
Enthused by his mandate, Mr. Hellyer embarked on a personal crusade to bring management theory to the uniformed military in order to gain funds for new equipment. The problem with “flavour of the month” management theories, however, is that they are often formulated from successful companies that have a very narrow focus, or academics who formulate management theory in isolation, often without reference to the “real world.”

There has never been an all-encompassing “true” management theory that is universal in application. In the past three decades, numerous management theories have been embraced by large corporations – often with catastrophic results.

Theories on flattening an organization (removing the majority of middle managers and special functions agencies so that executives could get in touch with the “Shop Floor”) were particularly a major disaster. Most companies that subscribed to this cost-cutting scheme were Fortune 500 companies. The net effects of their new “functional” organization proved their ruin and many ended as takeover targets by their rivals who had chosen not to follow that particular management theory.

Governments need to understand that the military is a great ponderous beast with hundreds of attributes, thousand of functions and requiring millions of essential items to make it work. All of these items, component and resources have only one goal – to defend our country from internal and external threats and, if need be, in concert with allies to defeat international external threats. It is not a business. It is the highest form of service to one’s society; everyday, young Canadian men and women have the responsibility to put their lives on the line to defend their nation.

If one looks at our nation’s commercial and industrial agencies, you would be very hard pressed to find a business that matches that level of commitment. Simply put, there are none.
Private Christina Holley, an Aviation Systems Technician with 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron, performs a functional on the LAU-7 for the CF18 Hornet.
Similarly, other than the RCMP and possibly the Coast Guard, can anyone name a government department with an equivalent mandate? Does anyone put their very life on the line to ensure the policy they are mapping out gets final approval? It must be noted that, while crucial, the RCMP and the Canadian Coast Guard deal with violence on a very small scale in comparison to the military’s various missions.

Administrative oversight and control may be essential to managing government accounts in various departments but ­control of the military by administrative regulation and imposed roadblocks is simply unconscionable.

Allowing administrative executives to make major decisions affecting the military is both folly and dangerous. Understanding military requirements, studying current trends in military strategic thinking, and the development of new tactics and skills to meet new threats is a major study area and completely outside the realm of accountants and administrators.

To place the shoe on the other foot, if the CDS was tasked to assume control of the Department of Human Resources, can you imagine the squawk of HR specialists as he cut programs and realigned services based solely on his military experience? I can assure you that such a situation would never be allowed to happen; so why do so many uninvolved government departments and agencies feel they have the right to hey have a right to impose relatively unimportant  policies and requirements on the Canadian military? There is a need to go back to the past in order to save the future.

Relating this to the unification situation, should we then revert back to three separate services? As I have iterated above – unification, integration and the joining of the Department of National Defence with the Canadian Forces was the result of faulty premises based on ill-considered and flawed views regarding the need for a modern, well equipped and adequately manned defence force. There was a fundamental lack of understanding by Mr. Hellyer, and subsequently Public Servants, that defence is not just another government department.

What they failed to grasp was that dismantling the armed forces to make it an administratively controlled department would cost significant amounts of funds, time and effort that could have been better spent in meeting new national challenges as they arose.

Looking back at the events of the past 10 years, we begin to see the emergence of a solid Canadian military ethos. The profession of arms has once again become an acceptable career and Canadians are proud of the military’s achievement. To sustain both the professionalism and the ethos it is now time to shed the yoke of Mr. Hellyer’s failed experiment – to establish an appropriate military structure that ensures “jointness” without compromising the military’s long and distinguished history. We also need to disengage from the Public Service’s mass of extensive, often counterproductive practices and requirements. While they may be tasked with the need for probity and to monitor government excesses, interfering in procurement to secure IRBs and other benefits for various programs and regions only serves to either increase the cost of the project or to force the military to get by with less equipment as they trade numbers for current funds available.

Clearly, we must come to the conclusion that enough is enough. Even if the intentions are well motivated, delaying projects for significant periods of time risks the loss of an economically viable purchase or, equally, the loss of a manufacturer’s desire to do business with Canada.

Hopefully, LGen Leslie will take the courageous, but critical, step of restoring the military to its rightful place as an agency of the government that is only responsible to the Parliament of this country as opposed to an unelected administrator who is incapable of understanding what is needed to protect Canada. I am sure that, like the motto of the Royal Canadian Artillery Corps, he will find support Ubique – Everywhere!

Major Rob Day (ret), a Strategic Analyst, is currently working with the CMS organiza­tion. Rob experienced most of the upheavals and problems created by unification in his 40-year career. He continues to research and write articles on military matters, and resides in Ottawa with his family.
© FrontLine Defence 2010