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Evidence of meeting #8 for National Defence in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was position.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Walter Semianiw  Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Maxime Bernier

Good morning everyone. I would like to call to order this 8th meeting of the Standing Committee on National Defence.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on Thursday, March 16, 2010, we will do a brief study and receive a briefing on the rehiring of retired soldiers and staff by the department.

I am very pleased to have with us as witnesses today, from the Department of National Defence, Major General Walter Semianiw, chief of military personnel, and Gail Johnson,

Director General, Civilian Employment Strategies and Programs, Assistant Deputy Minister (Human Resources Civilian), and Colonel Kevin Moher, Director, Land Personnel Management, Army G1, Chief of the Land Staff.

I would like to welcome all our witnesses. Thank you very much for being with us today. You will have

about ten minutes. After that the members will be able to engage in conversation with you.

Thank you for being here. The floor is yours.

11:05 a.m.

MGen Walter Semianiw Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to appear before you today to discuss the rehiring of retired personnel by the Canadian Forces.

Before I begin, let me introduce the other key witnesses present here with me today. First, from the land staff is Colonel Kevin Moher. He is the officer responsible for management for the army of people. Also with me, from the assistant deputy minister, civilian human resources, is Gail Johnson, director general, civilian employment strategies and programs, who is responsible for civilian personnel employment within the Department of National Defence.

My own area of responsibility in the subject of interest today relates to the policy governing the personnel administration of the reserve component of the Canadian Forces in full- and part-time positions. The rules governing the employment of Canadian Forces annuitants are included in this policy. We will begin with a brief overview of the policy to set the scene for the committee.

As you know, the Canadian Forces is a total force comprised of a regular component, made up of personnel who have agreed to serve on a continuing basis, and a reserve component, made up of personnel who have agreed to serve on other than a continuing basis. For a variety of reasons, it is sometimes necessary to employ personnel from one component in units of the other component. Afghanistan is an obvious example of this.

We have large numbers of reservists serving alongside their regular force counterparts in theatre today and expect to do so as long as we are deployed and have troops abroad.

In addition, because we are a volunteer service, movement between the components, the regular force and the reserve force, based on personal decision and personal circumstances, is allowed and relatively common; indeed, it has been going on since the 1950s. This leads to transfers between components whereby personnel from the reserves become members of the regular force and vice versa. It is not uncommon for military personnel to transfer to the reserve component on retirement from the regular component. This allows them to continue to serve and allows the Canadian Forces to benefit from their expertise.

This is, of course, not the only method available to the Canadian Forces to continue to avail itself of the knowledge and expertise invested in its retiring members during their careers with the regular force component. Depending on personal circumstances and long-term objectives, some choose to continue as public servants. Others make themselves available for temporary employment as employees of contracting firms used by the department and the Government of Canada via the PWGSC standing contracts.

Why do we need these people? Why do we not use personnel from the regular component?

As you know, the Canadian Forces is expanding its personnel establishment as directed in the Canada First defence strategy. Indeed, I am pleased to announce today that we did meet our targets for last year, not grosso modo seulement, not in overall general terms only, but it has been the best year in many years in recruiting our stress trades.

While we have been very successful in our recruiting efforts, it takes time to train and to develop new personnel to the point at which they can contribute effectively to military operations and to necessary administrative functions. As a result, we have a large number of personnel in the training pipeline who are unavailable for employment in positions calling for a trained, effective person. Right now, we have approximately 4,800 of these positions without qualified personnel in the regular force to fill them. It is these positions, as well as the mission in Afghanistan, that lead to the largest use of reservists on a full-time basis.

I should also point out that relatively few of these positions require a senior officer. The majority do not. For example, there are slightly over 3,000 corporals and an equal number of sergeants from the reserve component employed full-time with the regular component. This is a case of making use of expertise resident in the reserve component—across the entire rank structure—to satisfy a genuine military requirement.

Let me explain how we go about deciding to use a specific reservist in a specific position.

The first step is to attempt to fill the position with a member of the regular component. Only when it has been determined that this will not be possible do we consider using a reservist. The requirement is then announced, at first locally and then nationwide if required, to all units of the reserve component via an employment opportunity message. This message describes the job to be done, the rank and occupation of the person required, and any other applicable administrative details. There is a minimum period of 30 days within which any reservist who meets the stated requirements may apply for consideration.

Once the 30-day application period has closed, the unit requiring the services of the reservist will review all applications received, conduct interviews as required, and select the individual thus qualified to fill the position.

This is an open, transparent process that is similar to the hiring process used by the public service.

Recently, to enhance transparency and make the process more efficient, we have introduced a web-based application, which we'll be more than pleased to discuss during the question period. This is an in-house application accessible by all reservists, which replaces paper-based processes used in the past. In addition to making the process more efficient, it also allows for better quality control by higher headquarters, thereby ensuring transparency and fairness. At this time there are two pilots going on, with the new software being trialled in my organization at chief military personnel command, and within the army.

It's also important for you to understand that our current need for reservists will not continue forever. The people now in the training pipeline will become functional. In due course the position now occupied by a reservist will be filled by someone from the regular component. So in time our need for reservists will decline. I doubt it will ever completely disappear, but I'm confident that it will be considerably smaller in the future. In the interim it will continue, and there will be periods from one to three years when we will need qualified personnel from the regular component to support and replace those positions that are vacant.

I would also like you to understand that not all the reservists now employed by the Canadian Forces are also annuitants. Of the 3,000 or so corporals, only 336 are annuitants. In fact, only one in four reservists currently employed on a full-time basis is an annuitant.

As mentioned earlier, I'm responsible for the policies that govern the personnel administration of the employment of reservists. This policy allows for augmentation of the regular force by reservists in two ways. The first allows for the temporary employment of reservists in administrative or instructional positions. The second allows for employment of reservists in regular force positions or in approved operations.

Embedded within the policy are also rules relating to the employment of reservists who are also Canadian Forces annuitants. These rules apply to both options just described. The Canadian Forces has two options available in which a reservist who is also a Canadian Forces annuitant can be employed on a full-time basis. Those rules and regulations are defined by the Treasury Board of Canada.

Option one limits the period of employment to a maximum of 330 days in any one period of 365 days.

The second option allows for the continuous, full-time employment of the reservist. In option one, the reservist continues to draw his or her annuity. In the second option, the reservist is required to contribute to the Canadian Forces pension fund after 365 days of employment, and the annuity ceases.

This, in a nutshell, is the policy relevant to today's discussion.

We are now available to respond to your questions and comments. Thank you.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Maxime Bernier

I will give the floor to Mr. Wilfert.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, General; it's good to see you again. Thank you to your colleagues attending today.

I remember when we did the quality of life study over ten years ago, there was some discussion on this. Obviously, Treasury Board guidelines are very clear. Relative to other departments, would you say yours is unusual in terms of the numbers of rehires, or is it in the middle?

11:10 a.m.

Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

MGen Walter Semianiw

I would have to go back and get the numbers and the facts for this committee. I don't know at this point in relation to perhaps the Department of Foreign Affairs how many former regular-force personnel are rehired. I'm prepared to provide that information to the committee when I get it.

We know this has been going on for a long time. I think we all would agree with that. The issue today is why is there such an additional demand? As I believe I've said in other committees, how many years does it take to make a 20-year corporal or private or sergeant? It takes 20 years, and that's the challenge. What do we do as we've increased the number of enrollees in the forces while we have that gap for that short term? At this point, as we've said, we've hired at all rank levels, privates, corporals, master corporals, in all three services--army, navy, air force--regular-force personnel to fill those, as well as reservists who are in full-time positions.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

I noted in your comments that this is on a decline. You mentioned one in four, so it's not an alarming amount, but given our responsibilities in Afghanistan, currently I think 40% are reservists in Afghanistan.

11:15 a.m.

Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

MGen Walter Semianiw

It's about 20%, and from a force structural point of view that began a number of years ago, because reserves are an integral part of that structure. Exactly right, the numbers have come down. If you take a look at class B--and this becomes a complexity of the issue--those folks who are in the reserves on full-time service vice those who are in the reserves on part-time service has already dropped by about 1,500 personnel in the last six months. So the numbers are already starting to come down. If we take a look at historical data, it used to be in the area of 5,000; the number is coming down. I think we also have to remember that taking those people we just enrolled and getting to the point of being functional is going to take some time as well.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Obviously there are always accusations about double-dipping, and that I think was probably generally what the Treasury Board guidelines were looking at, at the time.

In terms of electronic bidding and this procedure involving a former public servant, could you elaborate briefly?

11:15 a.m.

Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

MGen Walter Semianiw

Is the question alluding to the new software we've put in place?

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Yes.

11:15 a.m.

Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

MGen Walter Semianiw

Over the last year we looked at some of these issues at the heart of class B hiring, and one of them was how we could create a monster.ca for reservists. It was done more for the reserves, not for us. That was the idea that drove us this way. We wondered if we could have a site that any reserve soldier or anyone looking for reserve opportunity full-time could go to, to see all the jobs that are available, and that's what we worked toward.

It has existed within my organization since the first of January. I've got about 17,000 men and women in uniform under my command. Anyone who's looking for full-time reserve service in military personnel command goes to one site, so that was the first step. All the jobs are posted. They will also see everyone who's applied for the job. They will also see what all the requirements are for that position, so nothing is hidden, it's all very open--fitness, training requirements for that position. This is the last piece that needs to come into play, which I know will be raised by this committee.

When the individual who hires those folks hires them, that individual knows this process has been open. Getting to the point of hiring, and that's the issue, I don't hire folks in class B; I let those in my command. If someone on this committee were to turn to me and ask why this person was hired, I'd tell you unless it's in my command I can't tell you why, but now I know, because I've got this centralized system. I can tell you that last month I had 70 class B full-time hires in my organization; I put that in place.

My next step is to control that. This is the exciting part. In many cases some of these folks might be better employed in the Canadian Forces somewhere else across the country, not where the job has been given. In the current construct, if you have money, from the lowest level to the highest, you can send out a three-year job bid and hire somebody. How do we ensure openness and transparency, centralized control, having the right people in the right place, and that it's done fairly? As I've said many times at committee before, just because you can doesn't mean you should, and I think you can apply that to everything in the world.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

So that's an important instrument you now have, obviously, for all concerned.

In regard to rehirings, some comments have been made about limiting career opportunities for those already within the forces. Could you explain how you respond to that kind of issue?

11:20 a.m.

Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

MGen Walter Semianiw

If we're speaking from the vantage point of limiting a reservist's opportunities, it comes back to the comments made in the introductory remarks. All of the positions and posts are based on certain qualifications. Therein lies the challenge. The people with the best qualifications will be those who actually have those qualifications. When I take a look at the names in my new software, I can't tell you if someone is former regular force, reserve, or other. You just see a name. So it's a person who presents the best qualifications, which have to be confirmed. So it comes back to the best qualifications for those positions.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Maxime Bernier

Thank you for that.

Now we'll give the floor to Monsieur Bachand.

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

I would like to welcome MGen Semianiw, as well as Col Moher and Ms. Johnson.

Major-General, I would like you to give us some figures. I have identified three different types of double-dipping. First, there are former civilian employees in receipt of a pension who work as contractors for the Department. I understand that you don't have these figures with you today, but could you forward them to the Clerk? That would be greatly appreciated.

Another category would be retired military personnel working as civilian contractors for the Department. That can also happen.

But the category I am most interested in is retired military personnel who become reservists. You just made a brief reference to that scenario. You have identified 77 of them. In that last category—retired military personnel that become reservists—one soldier has written the following comments, which I would like to read to you in English:

Here's the way it works. General X has a colonel he does not want to lose, for whatever reason, and there are lots. Colonel X is slated to move on by the career manager, but losing him will entail hardship for General X, so he converts the position to a class B reserve and tells Colonel X the job is his if he retires. Colonel X retires, stays at his old desk, but with his new pension he has added 85% of his old paycheque to his account and is spared another potential move. The life begins as a golden double dipper in Ottawa. It's funny how many of these class B positions are found in places like Ottawa and other headquarter cities. The problem is that as more and more of these senior staff positions are being converted to reserve positions, the regular serving CF member's career is being penalized, because all of these positions are no longer available to him for career development. So the quality and experience of CF serving personnel will diminish over time. Once you take a hard CF establishment position out of the system, it becomes very difficult to get it back. Class B positions were originally created to allow class A reservists with training and experience the opportunity to get full-time employment without joining the CF full-time. It fulfilled a need for the CF and the reservist, but the cost was only 85% of a regular member. Now the whole thing has been bastardized and is being used by retirees to collect their position and to stay in one place with a very nice salary. If it continues, the CF will be paying more than what it would have if it had kept the position in the CF regular forces. Sure they get the position at 85% of the CF salary, but only after paying the pension of the CF retiree first. So now you are paying a pension plus 85% of the same personnel resource for the same amount of work and a whole lot less flexibility, because everyone knows you can't move a class B reservist.

I would be interested in hearing your reaction to the comments sent to me by this soldier.

11:20 a.m.

Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

MGen Walter Semianiw

Mr. Chairman, first of all, we will provide the information to the Committee.

We'll give you all of the details posed here, including the number of regular force people who have gone on to become civil servants. The first question posed was perhaps across government, and that's the other thing we will look at and get you data about.

If I could expand on the one point and make sure that we talk about establishment, this piece is now outside my experience, because the establishment of the Canadian Forces is....

It is the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff who is responsible for modifying the Canadian Forces establishment.

It is the vice-chief who actually owns and manages the establishment, not me. I think I can provide you with an answer, but it's worth posing the question to him.

First, you cannot take, from my understanding and knowledge, a regular forces position and turn it into a class B position. The regular forces established position always stays regular forces established. What you can do, as in this case, is establish a class B reserve job and then have the individual come and occupy the same job. C'est possible, it's possible to do exactly what was described, but the details are not.... That is the way we've done it. You can't change a regular forces position to a class B position. You can create a class B job tomorrow morning. If I wanted to, I could wake up tomorrow and say that I think I need this position, this position, and this position, if I have the money, as I've stated. I can send out, in an open, transparent process, three established positions for short-term, three-year contracts. That's all within the policy.

In short, can this happen? Yes, it can. But at the end of it all, as I said—I don't know this specific case—who is actually doing the hiring? I can tell you my perspective. Within my command, I had 70 positions last year that were class B. The names of those individuals are now openly on the web. I can't speak to that case. But to be fair, could that happen? Yes, it could.

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Do you have any say? Is a general independent? Can he say he is satisfied with his colonel? A colonel's career path is such that he has to move around. If the general does not want that person to move because he or she is very useful to him and that person's work would help him win more stars, can he change that position into a class B reservist position? Can he ask that person to retire, at which point he will be receiving a full pension, as well as 85% of his salary?

11:25 a.m.

Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

MGen Walter Semianiw

First of all, Mr. Chairman, I would like to say this.

That happens at the lowest level, starting at the unit level. It is not just at the highest level. Majors, lieutenant-colonels, colonels, and generals at any rank level could do that. As long as they are in command of an organization, they can do that with the establishment they own. So yes, it is possible to actually do that.

Just to make sure that we have the right words here, that position in the regular forces will still be there. But he has taken the individual who has taken his retirement and has taken a class B job, and has filled that, which actually has happened. I can't speak to this case, but in every case I know of, it's done on the basis of loss of knowledge, and it's always for the short term--un an, deux ans, trois ans--and it's not full-time.

Mr. Chairman, could you just give me a moment, please.

I don't want to make this more complex, but this is where is gets more complex. I indulge the committee here.

I didn't mention this, but there are also two types of full-time reserve positions. There are established full-time reserve positions and there are those that are full-time, but only for one, two, or three years. If you look at the structure of the Canadian Forces, there are full-time established positions that will go from now to eternity, because they're in the Canadian Forces. In all of those cases, every one that I know of is a reservist and has been a reservist in those established positions. The case we're talking about here is a one-, two-, or three-year contract that's not forever or actually in the overall establishment as an established full-time position. But it is possible, exactly as was posed here.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Maxime Bernier

Fine, thank you. That information is helpful to members.

We now move to Mr. Harris, for seven minutes.

Mr. Harris, please.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for coming today.

I was surprised to hear your presentation on what I guess I would call the junior ranks of reservists. I didn't understand that it was an issue or a problem. What you described in your presentation, for the most part, were regular forces people who were retiring or leaving the service for one reason or another who were then joining the reservists because they wanted to. They were then able to become class B reservists and serve in Afghanistan or wherever. I wouldn't see that as a particular problem for this committee or for the public, assuming that there was fairness in hiring--you weren't just hiring people who happened to be your buddies in the service--and that this wasn't being done to usurp the job opportunities for a corporal who is ready to be promoted to a sergeant but is not going to be promoted, because we have this reservist ready to come in.

How do you prevent the second thing from happening?

11:30 a.m.

Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

MGen Walter Semianiw

The way to prevent the second thing from happening is by doing what we're doing right now with the pilot in place, which is, to begin with, ensuring that reservists and anybody else coming for job employment have to come to a particular position or to one spot, that being the one site.

The next step, once we roll this out--right now it's with the army, and across the Canadian Forces the navy will be next--will be to ensure that you actually apply and provide fair and ample opportunity for reservists, and that's the competing first principle: how, on the one hand, can you ensure that you have the person with the best knowledge and skills on the job, and at the same time ensure that you allow continued progression and opportunities for reservists? Therein lies part of that dichotomy, because part of the dichotomy is that in many cases someone who's done this on a full-time basis is bringing more experience, more skills, and more knowledge to the table. Therein lies the key.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

If I may interrupt, I understand that opportunities for reservists are useful, but if I'm a corporal and and I see some reservist brought into the sergeant position and I'm not being given an opportunity for a promotion, then I'm not very happy about that--

11:30 a.m.

Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

--so what I want to ask you is this: are the existing CF members given a priority?

Maybe you will always find an experienced sergeant to put in there and then be able to say that you got the best person for the job. That seems to me to be unfair, however, if I'm a corporal looking to progress within the regular forces. I have signed up for the duration and I'm ready to take on new challenges. I feel that I'm being overlooked because this bank of reservists out there, who perhaps are already receiving pensions, are moving into my career path.

How do you avoid that? If I have a beef about what happened, is there an opportunity or an ability to object to it or grieve it or have it adjudicated in some way ?

11:30 a.m.

Chief of Military Personnel, Department of National Defence

MGen Walter Semianiw

To answer the last part of the question, yes, at any point in time you have the opportunity to grieve on a particular position if you believe you were not treated fairly.

To answer the first part of the question, which I think becomes the heart of this discussion, currently there is no policy in place that says you will pick this person over that person. It doesn't exist. There is no policy that says you will have this person or that person. It is now based purely on the skills that you bring to the position, and that's it, so when they look at the skills that are required for this position, I would hope the person who is chosen will have the name that's connected to the person with the skills.

I come back to my comment: therein lies the challenge for a reservist, who perhaps has not had the same opportunities as someone who has served full time in either the reserves or the regular forces. I can only assume that is being done, but there is no national policy that says you will prefer anyone over anybody else. That doesn't exist. I own that policy; it doesn't exist.

What is needed is the next step, which you touched on. That's to take a look at it to ensure that not only is the process now transparent, but also that the actual hiring process itself becomes transparent, if that's clear. We've now put it open that here are the skills and here are the people applying for it; now what happens in that selection process? That I can't tell you across the CF, because I don't hire these people.