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DND photo LF01-2016-0061-008 by Master Corporal Kurt Visser

US Army soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, and Canadian Army soldiers from the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, on patrol together during Exercise Maple Resolve at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright, 27 May 2016.

Reports of the Auditor General of Canada – Canadian Army Reserve: The Missing Link

by Daniel A. Doran

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The objective of this short article is to provide a synopsis of the Auditor General’s report on the Army Reserves. The hope is to offer insight into areas where the report overlooked certain key components that are paramount to the successful implementation of any plan whose intent would be to improve the overall functioning of the Militia.

The Auditor General’s Report on the Army Reserves focuses mainly upon training, funding, human resources, and materiel challenges faced by the organization, and it provides guidance to assist the Army in overcoming these challenges.1

It is the contention of this article that the essential tension that underlies all these challenges and that will continue to hamper any real progress in improving the Army Reserves is a misalignment between the Reserve capabilities sought by the Regular Force and the inherent constraints and organizational culture of the Militia. This essential conflict at the center of the issues facing the Army Reserves is not addressed in a meaningful way by the Auditor General.

So long as this fundamental misalignment is not addressed with effect, the ‘square peg’ of Reserve capabilities will continue to fail to fit the ‘round hole’ of Regular Force expectations.


In the Spring of 2016, the Auditor General released Report 5 – Canadian Army Reserve – National Defence. The report’s scope spanned the period between fiscal years 2012-2013 and 2014-2015, while reaching further back in time for certain data.2 The report team set out with the primary objective of determining “whether the Army Reserve is ready to deploy for domestic and international missions” with the three following sub-objectives:3

  1. Whether National Defence assigned missions and objectives to the Army Reserve and its units with the necessary resources;
  2. Whether Army Reserve units had the capacity to accomplish assigned missions; and
  3. Whether Army Reserve personnel and units were trained to be combat-capable and to achieve their assigned missions.

This questions were explored and analyzed through a comprehensive review of a number of types of information (i.e., plans, data, reports, etc.) and processes (i.e., recruiting), in addition to a series of interviews spanning the Reserve hierarchy.

Using this methodology, the report team developed a series of conclusions and associated recommendations grounded in their observations and associated analysis. The recommendations were far-reaching and touched upon some key technical challenges facing the Army Reserve, specifically: training, funding, human resources, and equipment.

The report came to a series of general conclusions about the most pressing challenges facing the Army Reserves, these were:4

  1. Guidance on preparing for missions:
    1. Units lacked clear guidance on preparing for major international missions; and
    2. Units and groups were not fully prepared for domestic missions.
  2. Sustainability of Army Reserve units:
    1. Units did not have the soldiers they needed; and
    2. Funding was not designed to be consistent with unit training and other activities.
  3. Training of Army Reserve soldiers:
    1. Soldiers received less training than Regular Army soldiers; and
    2. Army Reserve and Regular Army training were not fully integrated.

Each of these conclusions was accompanied by broad recommendations as to how these problems should be resolved, as follows:5

  1. Guidance on preparing for missions:
    1. Provide individual Army Reserve units with clear guidance so that they can prepare their soldiers for key tasks assigned to the Army Reserve for major international missions;
    2. Define and provide access to the equipment that Army Reserve units and groups need to train and deploy for domestic missions; and
    3. Require Army Reserve groups to formally confirm that they are prepared to support domestic missions.
  2. Sustainability of Army Reserve units:
    1. Design and implement a retention strategy for the Army Reserves;
    2. Review the terms of service of Army Reserve soldiers, and the contracts of full-time Army Reserve soldiers, to ensure that it is in compliance with the NDA;
    3. Review its policies and clarify Army Reserve soldiers’ access to medical services;
    4. Ensure it has up-to-date information on whether Army Reserve soldiers are prepared for deployment;
    5. Ensure that budgeted annual funding for Army Reserve units is consistent with expected results; and
    6. Complete planned changes to the way it reports its annual budgets and the expenses of the Army Reserves.
  3. Training of Army Reserve soldiers:
    1. Work with departments and agencies to consider including coverage of absences to include all types of occupational skills training;
    2. Consider amendments to the proposed Compensation of Employers of Reservists program;
    3. Ensure training of Army Reserve soldiers for international deployments addresses all known gaps in skills; and
    4. Improve the collective training and integration of Army Reserves with their Regular Force counterparts.

It is not so much the actual conclusions and recommendations of this report that are discussed in the following portion of this article, but more so, some of the overlooked elements that underlie them. Specifically, while the conclusions themselves remain valid, the recommendations fail to consider some of the key organizational constraints that would prove to be critical stumbling blocks to much of their implementation.

Some of these organizational realities include but are not limited to: the small percentage of Reservists that actually deploy domestically and internationally; objective availability of Reservists, irrespective of pay and allocated budget; unavoidable ‘skill fade’ inherent with part-time soldiers irrespective of training parity; and the overarching organizational culture of the Army Reserve, which remains intractable with the Regularization of the Army Reserves proposed in the Auditor General’s report.

DND photo CK05-2016-0833-028 by Master Corporal HJL MacRae

Members of 44 Troop D Squadron, 12e Régiment blindé du Canada on road reconnaissance at Haines Junction, Yukon, during Operation Nanook, 30 August 2016.


The Auditor General’s report on the Reserves took a very methodical approach in formulating its recommendations in an attempt to align the Army Reserve’s capabilities with the needs of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). This unfortunately is where the report went astray, and led it to the solutions it proposed: i.e., more training, more money, more equipment, and more personnel. These are noble objectives in that the Army Reserve is underfunded, under-equipped, and undermanned. However, these issues are not at the root of the actual problem. They are peripheral issues that need to be solved, but doing so will not solve the deeper challenges facing the Army Reserve, nor those of the CAF in their desire to optimize the Reserves to better support them.

Part-time Army Reservists can be divided into two general sub-sets: young students, and older working professionals. The former make up the bulk of the junior ranks of the Army Reserve, as well as the bulk of those that support the Regular Force in overseas operations. The latter represents the ‘home-guard’ and senior leadership of the regiments that engage in the cyclical work of planning training and running units. These two groups have a symbiotic relationship. The junior members need the senior members to lead and plan the activities at the unit that allow the junior members to maintain the basic skills of their part-time trades through evening and weekend training. The senior members require the junior members to ensure succession.

The emphasis the CAF places upon the Reserves as a manpower pool for missions is sub-optimal, in that it does not reflect a real capability within the Reserves. Functionally, only a small percentage of Reservists deploy. The vast majority do not, and they simply parade as part-time soldiers for their full careers. It is unrealistic to try to shape the Reserves to be more operationally ready when so few active members actually deploy on operations. This would be akin to renaming all Combat Engineer Regiments ‘Dive Regiments,’ because 5% of their members are combat divers.6 This misalignment of expectations has been and remains a real challenge for the Reserves, since the CAF has not yet fully recognized this reality.

Given the small a fraction of reservists that deploy on active service, the question arises of why so much importance should be placed in the Auditor General’s report upon the achievement of skills parity. Training 100% of a group to reach a level of performance only practiced by 5% of its members seems at the very least like a misallocation of resources, both human and financial. This issue becomes more acute when one considers how this training structure inhibits many Reservists from progressing in their part-time military careers, due to irreconcilable conflicts with their civilian work commitments.7

A second underlying factor ignored by the report is the reality of ‘skill fade’ in the Reserves and the inefficiencies associated with trying to create a training structure that aims to achieve skill parity between the Regular and Reserve forces. Reservists are part-time soldiers, and as such, parade around 35-45 days a year. During these periods, they engage in keeping up basic skills, such as marksmanship, battle fitness, first aid, and trade-specific skills. Over time, many of the non-basic skills of these soldiers fade, not through a lack of effort or professionalism on the part of the members, but simply due to the limited time available to practice them. This reality underscores the flaws in the current training structure. Specifically, that irrespective of training parity policies imposed, much of the benefit will be slowly lost over the ensuing years of intermittent service, irrespective of the individual’s natural acumen and dedication to the profession. While this is also true in the Regular Force to a degree, it remains a monumental challenge in the Reserves, a situation which would only we worsened should more training expectations be imposed upon its members.

A further issue that needs to be addressed is that of the objective availability of Reservists. The Auditor General’s report recommends more funding for training of Reservists. This is certainly an excellent idea on the surface, as many of the younger members of units across the country would gladly come in more often if given the opportunity. This is not the issue; the issue is what to do with them when they arrive. Having soldiers present themselves to their respective armories more frequently is an easy objective to achieve – the question is where does one find the resources to provide these soldiers with meaningful training once they show up?

The answer lies with the senior members of the units who represent the core of the training and planning structure, as mentioned earlier. These individuals typically have full-time jobs and families, in addition to other responsibilities outside the military. They are dedicated Reservists who decided to stay beyond their formative years, due to their love of the job. These individuals typically already give as much as they can to support training, and they are unlikely to be in a position to give more to support additional training days. Herein lies the bottleneck to achieving improved training within the Reserves.

There is a natural limit that is reached with the capacity of Reserve senior leadership to support training, and in most units, that limit has been reached. The allocation of more person-days per Reservist will not necessarily create better trained individuals and units, since the senior staff responsible for creating this training would remain, for the most part, no more available than they were before the increase. This constraint could be mitigated through the progressive growth of the overall force structure of the Reserves, creating more senior staff to train the force – but this would require a great amount of time, since senior officers and NCOs are not created overnight. Another option would be to augment permanent staff of reserve units to support training. The downside of this option is that in doing so, the Regular Force augmentees would co-opt the ability of Reservists to conduct the required work by excluding them from leading the planning process. This would likely have a negative institutional impact upon Reservists’ ability to grow professionally within their roles.

The final issue ignored by the Auditor General’s report pertains to the misalignment between Regular and Reserve organizational culture. Peter Drucker famously noted that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,”8 and this statement is as true in the Army Reserve as it is in business. Despite the post-9/11 reality of the Reserve force employment strategy which has been impacted through progressive “regularization,” the Reserves’ organizational culture has remained steadfast in its own self-preservation with respect to its distinct values and social norms within the larger CAF culture.

While it is important that the organizational culture of any group not totally exist in isolation, it should also be acknowledged that the Regular and Reserve cultures can but likely should not become homogeneous. It can be argued that such a situation would be impossible given that many of the values and priorities of citizen soldiers do not align with the Regular Force, which is the manifest reason these same individuals did not join the Regular Force in the first place.

Becoming and remaining a Reservist at its core means enjoying the part-time nature of training and service. On occasion, members will volunteer for periods of full-time service, but this remains within an overarching part-time paradigm. Further, the very nature of the ‘The Regiment’ to Reservists is, in many ways, very distinct from any other comparable troop body within the CAF. While Regular force members would argue that the notion of ‘The Regiment’ exists within their lines as well, it can be argued that the tenets of the Reserve culture within a regimental context are unique in that they intimately extends to communities, families, ex-members, and active members in a way uniquely different from their Regular Force counterparts. The Auditor General’s report does not take this into account, possibly because delving into cultural elements such as these tends to ‘muddy the waters’ when trying to create clear conclusions leading to implementable recommendations.

This issue, however, remains the ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to any attempt at successful Reserve transformation. Without intimately engaging with and making efforts to understand the nature of Reserve culture, the CAF’s best plans will be undone through the Militia’s longstanding cultural inertia that takes the form of Honourary Colonels, regimental guilds, ex-members in influential positions within the body politic, as well as the fundamentally intractable nature of the ‘The Regiment,’ which, despite efforts to change it, refuses to yield in any substantive manner.


For any transformation of the Reserves to be considered successful, the approach taken needs to be grounded in a re-alignment of the capabilities sought by the CAF with the organizational culture and inherent constraints at the core of part-time service.

Many such re-alignments lie in direct opposition to the recommendations of the report. As an example, if the Regular Force wants to incentivize the same soldier and leader-types as their Regular Force counterparts within a part-time paradigm, it would do well to consider de-coupling the Reserve career progression structure from the Regular Force, so as to create an environment that allows higher quality (but less available due to their success in civilian life) personnel to achieve and progress.9 Failing to do this will simply accelerate the current race towards mediocrity, which will only further hamper the Army Reserve’s ability to enhance its leadership, and in turn, improve support to the Regular Force through better staff support and training.

The Auditor General’s report fails to examine the Reserves as more than Regular Force augmentees within the CAF. While this may be the case for the 5% of reservists that represent augmentees – it ignores 95% of the organization of citizen-soldiers who represent a pool that could be leveraged in other ways, such as through employing them in part-time capacities related to their civilian professional skills. These members include engineers, lawyers, doctors, architects, and project managers, to name a few. These officers and Senior NCOs represent, not only the senior leadership core of the Reserves so often ignored, due to their inability and unavailability to be deployed, but also a huge potential pool of specialists and generalists that could act in consulting roles within the CAF. They would have the benefit of their civilian experience, tempered with their understanding of the military ethos and culture. These traits combined would have huge potential within the CAF to support sober second thought to policy and procedures throughout the institution.

In the end, the recommendations of the Auditor General’s report that more training, money, personnel, and material will solve the problem ignores something more fundamental and at the core of the challenges faced by the Reserves. The Reserves are distinct culturally from the Regular Force in a way that impacts the way Reservists think, work, and live. The Auditor General and Regular Force leaders need to start with this reality as the baseline for any change, and then look to thoroughly understand these components of Reserve culture before embarking upon any strategies that ‘tinker’ with the inner-workings of an institution that pre-dates its own.

Major Daniel A. Doran, a combat engineer, holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from the Royal Military College, a Master’s Degree in Human Security and Peace Building from Royal Roads, and an MBA from the John Molson School of Business. He has served as Deputy Task Force Engineer in Afghanistan (Op Athena, ROTO 1) and as an UN Military Observer in Sudan (UNMIS). He is currently a reservist and the Deputy Commanding Officer at 34 Combat Engineer Regiment, Montreal, Quebec. In his civilian life, Major Doran works as the Associate Director, Project Management (Facilities Management and Ancillary Services) at McGill University.

DND photo LF01-2016-0061-009 by Master Corporal Kurt Visser

Further US/Canadian cooperation during Exercise Maple Resolve at CFB Wainwright, 27 May 2016.


  1. Auditor General of Canada, Report 5 – Canadian Army Reserve – National Defence (Ottawa, Office of the Auditor General, 2016), p. 31.
  2. Ibid, p. 28.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid, p. 27.
  5. Ibid, p. 31.
  6. Daniel Doran, Re-Defining the Army Reserves for the 21st Century, (Kingston, Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2013), p. 74.
  7. Daniel Doran, The PLQ Mod 6 Conundrum: How the Army Punishes Reservists for Civilian Achievement, (Kingston, Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2012), p. 75.
  8. Emad Rizkalla, Why Corporate Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast, (Washington DC, Huffington Post Press, 2016).
  9. Daniel A. Doran, Attrition and Retention in the Reserves, (Kingston, ON, Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2016), p. 59.