Evidence of meeting #88 for Public Accounts in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was rmc.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Ferguson  Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General
Jody Thomas  Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence
Luc Cassivi  Commander, Canadian Defence Academy, Department of National Defence
Gordon Stock  Principal, Office of the Auditor General

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Good afternoon, everyone. This is meeting 88 of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. It's Thursday, March 1, 2018.

Today we're here in consideration of report 6, Royal Military College of Canada—National Defence, of the fall 2017 reports of the Auditor General of Canada.

I welcome the following witnesses to our meeting. We have the Auditor General of Canada, Mr. Michael Ferguson; and from the Auditor General's office, Gordon Stock, principal.

From the Department of National Defence we have Jody Thomas, deputy minister; and Luc Cassivi, commander of the Canadian Defence Academy.

Following our deliberations on report 6 this afternoon, we're going to move into consideration of draft report 1 on the Phoenix pay problems. That will be the last 15 or 20 minutes of today's meeting, if that's all right.

We welcome you, and we'll begin with our Auditor General. We look forward to your opening comments.

3:30 p.m.

Michael Ferguson Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss my 2017 fall report on the Royal Military College of Canada.

The Royal Military College of Canada is a federally funded university. While other universities can provide the undergraduate education that officers are required to have, only the Royal Military college has the mandate to provide that education in a military environment with a focus on military leadership, ethics and training.

Our audit focused on two areas. First, it focused on whether RMC produced the quality of officers that the Canadian Armed Forces needed at a reasonable cost. Second, it focused on whether National Defence ensured the proper conduct of officer cadets and staff at RMC.

We concluded that RMC couldn't demonstrate that it produced officers at a reasonable cost, and we concluded that there were weaknesses in military training at RMC. RMC emphasized academic education over military training.

We found that the quality of RMC's academic programs was good but that the operating costs per student to provide that education were the highest in Canada—about twice the average cost for a student at a similarly sized university. Several factors increased the operating cost per student, including the number of programs offered, the salaries of military staff in non-academic roles, and the very low student-to-faculty ratio. We also found that the cost of educating and preparing officer cadets at RMC was almost twice that of producing officer cadets through other officer entry plans.

The higher costs at RMC were partly attributed to higher standards that it sets for its graduates. However, National Defence couldn't demonstrate that these higher standards resulted in officers who were more effective than those from other officer entry plans.

Furthermore, we found that the governance structure of RMC was characterized by confusion and conflict between academic and military visions, and there was no clear mechanism to integrate academic and military objectives.

Finally, we found that RMC didn't provide officer cadets with adequate training and leadership on the proper conduct expected of future officers. RMC depends on its military training staff, academic faculty, and senior officer cadets to work together to enforce rules, teach leadership, and instill military ethics. We found that military staff didn't always have the necessary skills or experience to instruct and guide officer cadets, and that the academic environment didn't consistently support teaching military discipline and values. While RMC took action when serious incidents of misconduct were reported, the number of incidents involving senior officer cadets showed that RMC hadn't prepared them to serve as role models for their peers.

During our audit period, National Defence conducted its own assessment of the culture and training environment at RMC. We found that many of the assessment's observations were relevant, and we included them in our report. However, in our opinion, the impact of the assessment is likely to be limited because more than half of its 79 recommendations did not recommend concrete actions but called for further study.

We made six recommendations to reduce operating costs, improve governance, and strengthen military training. National Defence has responded that it will address each recommendation.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, sir.

We'll now turn to our deputy minister, Ms. Thomas, please.

3:35 p.m.

Jody Thomas Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Thank you very much.

Good afternoon, and thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting me to speak with you and members of the committee about the Auditor General's sixth report on the Royal Military College of Canada.

I'm pleased to have the Commander of the Canadian Defence Academy, Rear-Admiral Luc Cassivi, with me today.

Admiral Cassivi is himself a graduate of Collège militaire royal.

The Canadian Defence Academy is the headquarters responsible for ensuring coherent and integrated professional military education for the Canadian Armed Forces. This includes overseeing not only RMC, but CMR Saint-Jean, the Canadian Forces College, and the Chief Warrant Officer Osside Profession of Arms Institute for non-commissioned member professional military education.

Rear-Admiral Cassivi reports directly to the chief of the defence staff. I have every confidence he will implement the changes necessary to ensure that RMC generates the best possible Canadian Armed Forces officers in the best possible way.

On that note, let me start by thanking the Auditor General for the work undertaken by his office in completing this report.

We appreciate his efforts to identify ways RMC could be further improved.

We agree with all six of his recommendations and have a plan to implement every single one.

We are also engaging the officer cadets themselves on this important conversation about the college.

Every year for the last five years, the graduating class has provided valuable feedback through a survey on their RMC experience. We take their feedback seriously and will continue to act on it as needed.

The Royal Military College of Canada, which is Canada's only military university, is a unique institution dedicated to maintaining and transmitting the profession of arms. Its mission is to produce officers with the ethical, mental, physical, and linguistic capabilities to lead with distinction in the Canadian Armed Forces. As a military unit characterized by military rules, regulations, and routines, RMC develops officer cadets qualities of military leadership and trains them to lead subordinates, plan operations, and enforce regulations.

During the summer, officer cadets do on-the-job training or military training off-campus in areas such as logistics and infantry.

It instills officer cadets with the military culture and ethos that are the foundation of the profession of arms.

As a degree-granting university, RMC ensures that officer cadets enter the Canadian Armed Forces with the educational grounding to be effective in an environment where intellectual demands continue to rise. It has a proven history of excellence. Canadian military heroes, like Billy Bishop and Leonard Birchall, have graduated from RMC. So too have astronauts like Marc Garneau and Chris Hadfield Olympic athletes like Sharon Donnelly, and businessmen like Hartland Molson, to name a few.

I'm confident that in years to come, RMC will continue to foster and develop exceptional leaders for our Canadian Armed Forces and for our country.

But I also recognize that changes are necessary. These changes will ensure the university can continue to meet the needs of its students of the Canadian Armed Forces, and the government and people of Canada.

Even before the Auditor General's audit, work was under way to assess how we could continue to improve aspects of RMC. General Vance ordered a special staff assistance visit to RMC in August 2016. Seventy-nine recommendations stemmed from that report when it was made public in March of last year.

General Vance committed to implementing all of them and added 11 related items for a total of 90 recommendations. In fact, several of the Auditor General's recommendations echo these findings. I am pleased to say that we've made progress on implementing them.

However, the Auditor General has helped us identify other challenges, and we welcome his perspective.

As the Auditor General has noted, many of our planned actions involve additional study. This is because the audit findings raise some key questions that we need to address to ensure that RMC produces high-quality officer cadets at a reasonable cost. What exactly do we expect from RMC and its graduates? How should RMC be similar to other academic institutions? More importantly, how does it need to be different to accomplish what we expect? What is the appropriate cost for that difference? The studies we have planned will help us answer those questions and more effectively implement the Auditor General's recommendations.

The Auditor General recommended that we improve and integrate the military training that officer cadets at RMC receive. We're doing that. This is a recommendation that we also arrived at through the RMC SSAV report.

As a result, we are currently reviewing the full complement of military training activities that officer cadets participate in throughout the year, and for us that means both the academic year which the Auditor General studied and the summer training period. One of the things that make RMC unique is the fact its students conduct highly focused military training with the navy, army, or air force during summer months.

We consider that training to be an important part of the RMC experience, even though it doesn't happen at RMC.

As part of their academic study, all officer cadets study RMC's profession of arms core curriculum, which provides foundational military knowledge to prepare them for a career in the Canadian Armed Forces.

By undertaking this review, we will ensure that officer cadets' academic studies and military training are better integrated.

The Auditor General recommended that we explore ways to reduce RMC's operating cost per student. We're doing that. We are starting with a review of the cost per student, and we're reviewing the number of academic programs we offer at RMC.

Royal Military College prides itself on providing a rich and stimulating academic curriculum in both official languages that exposes officer cadets to diverse subjects, perspectives, and ideas, and it will continue to do so, perhaps though with a refined offering.

The Auditor General recommended that we make sure the high standards we expect of RMC's graduation class are, in fact, required, and that they result in better qualified officers at a reasonable cost. We're doing that.

We expect a lot from officers in the Canadian Armed Forces and it is our responsibility to make sure our officer cadets are trained to meet the high demands. We believe RMC's high standards help motivate officer cadets to become the best officers and citizens they can be, and we're looking closely at factors like retention and career progression to better understand how meeting those standards translates into career indicators for RMC graduates.

We are examening the cost of putting officer cadets through the regular officer training program and studying it against costs at comparable allied military institutions. So far, we are finding that RMC's costs are on par with, or less than, similar institutions in Australia and the US.

The Auditor General recommended that we more clearly define the role of the Commandant as the authority for the day-to-day business of the college and we are doing that. And per the SSAV Report we've already extended the length of the Commandant's command tour to three years. That will allow for longer term planning and ensure better continuity for each cohort of students.

We are also reviewing the academic governance framework.

We recognize that it is vital for leaders of RMC to clearly understand their roles and functions so that they can model effective and efficient leadership for officer cadets.

The Auditor General recommended that we revisit our criteria for appointing senior officer cadets to leadership positions, and we've done that. RMC exists to train military leaders, and one of the best ways for them to learn is by doing. This is why we view appointments to leadership positions as opportunities to develop. We also recognize the responsibility we have toward these young leaders and those in their charge. We have recently implemented a number of changes in the leadership appointment criteria.

As of January, officer cadet leaders are selected on merit using a clear list of criteria. They each are approved individually by the commandant, and every single one has a dedicated mentor from DND or the Canadian Armed Forces.

The Auditor General also recommended that military training staff should have the proper skills and training to help officer cadets develop their leadership skills. We agree, and we're doing that. Following a similar recommendation from the SSAV report, we have made sure that the military staff who are posted to RMC have the suitable rank and leadership experience to support the officer cadets. We are increasing staff orientation and training to ensure that they are well equipped for the tasks we require of them.

Since RMC was founded in 1874, it has evolved continuously to meet the changing needs of our women and men in uniform.

Today, Royal Military College is a university with a difference.

It trains some of our future officers absolutely, but it also provides professional development programs for our senior non-commissioned officers. It provides indigenous youth with one-year educational and leadership experience through the Aboriginal Leadership Opportunities Year. At the end of the year, these youth can choose to join the military, or they can return to their communities with new-found leadership skills. It is home to researchers who provide expert advice not only to DND, but to other government departments as well, in the areas of study like cyber, electronic warfare, and space. One of its unique assets is its SLOWPOKE-2 nuclear reactor, a research reactor that has been of benefit to Canada for over 30 years.

RMC is a national institution that trains leaders of tomorrow. We are committed to making sure it offers the best training possible but, we agree, at a reasonable cost. The Auditor General's report and our responses to his recommendations will position RMC to grow into the future as it has been doing for more than 140 years.

Thank you. We look forward to your questions.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you for your presentation.

Mr. Arya.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Chandra Arya Liberal Nepean, ON

Ms. Thomas, let me first commend RMC, which has excellent world-class knowledge and expertise in certain technologies. However, the Auditor General mentioned the cost of education is twice the average cost for a student at a similar-sized university. I don't need to go anywhere else to find further proof. This is the Auditor General's report, printed back to back in normal fonts and here is your speech, 22 pages. Why this waste? There's one-side printing, and half-page per page printing, and big fonts. We don't need to waste so much.

3:45 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

Thank you. Noted.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Arya.

We'll now move to Mr. Lefebvre.

March 1st, 2018 / 3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

That was a comment.

Thank you for being here this afternoon.

I would like to first open my comments with the following: RMC, as I have always known it, is a very prestigious organization and institution. Actually, in my riding of Sudbury, I know of three young men who are applying, and they were so excited at even the possibility of being accepted at RMC. It just shows the prestige of the institution.

I was looking forward to examining the report from the Auditor General, so I was not necessarily dismayed but a bit concerned. At the end of the day, when we look at the direction that it has taken over the years, and when you look at the fact that civilian universities offer the same programs, and at the end of the day your mandate of military training is not really a core principle, that academics is more important, it begs the general question—and I'm going lead off with that right off the bat—do we need RMC? If the civilian universities can do the training, if the military of Canada can also do training within its own structure, do we need it in 2018? I'd like either the deputy minister or Mr. Cassivi to give us why we need RMC in 2018?

3:45 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

It's a very interesting question. I think we'll probably both want to have a comment on it.

I do believe that, yes, RMC is an essential and critical part of the infrastructure of developing officers within the Canadian Armed Forces. We are a diverse country, with diverse backgrounds. I think the more roots into the officer levels and the officer cadre in the Canadian Armed Forces the better. Bringing people in through civilian universities, where they do the civilian ROTP program, through the reserves commissioned from the ranks, but also, equally, a group that goes through RMC, makes for a richer Canadian Armed Forces and a different set of experiences.

It isn't like other universities. It does offer academic programs equal to other universities, and we do focus on academics because it has to have a high academic standard in order to stay an institution. It is accredited like other educational institutions, so the academics do have to be high, but unlike most universities, students leave bilingual. All programs are offered in both official languages. While we do have to rebalance the military aspect of it somewhat per the Auditor General's recommendations, the amount of military training and discipline, self-discipline, leadership, physical education, and military education that is received at RMC does make it distinct from other universities.

I'll ask Admiral Cassivi to respond.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

Rear-Admiral Cassivi, you have the floor.

3:50 p.m.

RAdm Luc Cassivi Commander, Canadian Defence Academy, Department of National Defence

Thank you for your question.

To supplement what the deputy minister just said, it's the whole experience of RMC, from arrival at recruit school to graduation, that whole spectrum, that is very unique. The student who comes to RMC will attend classes. It's a must. He or she will learn a second language and will maintain a level of physical fitness that is above the normal standard for the armed forces in order to promote that desire to strive for excellence: to meet not the minimum standard but to strive for a higher standard, because that's what we expect our leaders to be able to inculcate going forward.

It is a unique experience from that perspective, and it is needed. We need diversity of experience and diversity of thought in our leaders moving forward, and the variety of programs that our officers in the armed forces join helps us achieve that.

As far as the balance between military and academic goes, the report, which we very much welcome, focused on the academic year. There is higher attention to academic standards through the academic year to ensure the students meet with success the requirements for graduating with university degrees. There is a careful balance based on the student and on the needs of the program in terms of having clear communication between the academic and the military wings throughout the year to achieve the best result possible. That's one of the things we took in from the report that we'll spend time on.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

All right. You've made your case that there is a need. The follow-up question to that is from the financial side. Basically, it costs twice as much. You have made your case that there is a need for RMC, but it costs twice as much as a regular institution. At the same time, you have a very low student-to-faculty ratio, which is great for the students, for sure, but again, at twice the cost of a regular institution.

How do you respond to that? I didn't see too much of that in your response.

3:50 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

I'm the accounting officer for the department. It is my responsibility to ensure the stewardship of public funds.

You've explained some of the reasons why the costs are higher: the low student-to-faculty ratio, the range of programs offered, and the fact that every program is offered in both official languages. Also, we have both an academic infrastructure and a military infrastructure supporting the students at the college.

We have to look at ways to ensure that we still continue to offer the highest academic standards that we can and that the military support and training are there, but at reduced costs. We are looking at rationalizing the number of programs offered—

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

You mentioned that before, but on the low student-to-faculty ratio, are you looking at possibly increasing the students...? There were two things in that comment I just made.

One, how many applications do you get? Do you fill all your positions? Is there a waiting list of people who are refused?

Two, I would see RMC as a recruiting tool for the military. Last year, another Auditor General's report we had was about the challenges for the military in recruiting, so what I would see is that if we can increase the students, we would have an ability to recruit more easily, certainly for the prestigious institution that is RMC.

3:50 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

I'll ask the admiral to talk about the number of students coming in, but there is a fixed infrastructure at the college. Everybody lives at the college, so more residences, more cafeterias, and more library space...all of those things do limit the number of students we can take in.

One of the things that we do pride ourselves on—and it is a balance between cost and achievement—is the low student-faculty ratio. It does provide for a very privileged education and a very unique education. That is something that we think is important.

3:55 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Defence Academy, Department of National Defence

RAdm Luc Cassivi

Mr. Chair, in terms of the number of students going through right now, the college is running very much at capacity. There is a variation every year based on students who realize after a few months or after the first semester that it's not for them.

There is some variation in regard to those who realize that maybe the bar is too high for them and who voluntarily withdraw from the program, but overall we are at capacity and, yes, there are more applications than we have room to take in students. There is an option to increase there. It's one of the reasons why we are looking at capacity at CMR Saint-Jean through the ROTP CMC program over the next few years, as was announced in the “Strong, Secure, Engaged” policy. That's one element.

Through some of the studies we're doing in our programs, we're also looking to see if there are ways to bring in more mature students to the college. I don't have capacity in residence, but I have capacity in the classroom. We could look at ways to add in mature students, which would enrich the experience of the students by having with them uniformed folks who have worked in their field, can inspire them moving forward, and bring that mentorship element into the classroom.

As we study forward, we'll be looking at those options.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Rear-Admiral Cassivi.

Mr. Deltell, welcome to the committee. You have seven minutes.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. You are really making significant progress in French. Perhaps it's because the Royal Military College provides instruction in both official languages that you are honouring its commitment. Congratulations, Mr. Chair.

Madam, gentlemen, Rear-Admiral, welcome to Canada's House of Commons.

My attention is drawn to three themes, starting with the financial question, of course. The report states that this amounts to “$55,000 per full-time-equivalent student and is the highest per-student cost in the country” and that, in a sense, “this is twice the average cost per student at comparable universities”.

In your report, Mr. Ferguson, you explain, and I quote: “... the number of degree programs offered and the low student-to-faculty ratio are major factors that contributed to this high cost.”

My concern is this. In the course of your analysis, did you discover superfluous and unnecessary expenses? We understand very well that there are many programs and few students. This is a special case. It's not a large-scale university, we understand that. So it's not really surprising that it costs more to study than at an ordinary university. Twice as much is maybe a lot, but my specific question is whether you've seen frivolous, futile, unnecessary spending where some housekeeping could be done, which would preserve existing programs while reducing the costs necessary for the college's activities?

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Ferguson.

3:55 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

In general, no, it was not about this type of expense. These were simply related to teaching.

We determined the number of students and faculty, as well as the ratio between the two. As a result, we identified different reasons why costs were high for students attending the college, but we did not find any worrying costs related to the type of expenses you mention.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Just to be sure, was it part of your study to identify some unacceptable spending instead of the big picture of the college?

3:55 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

Our goal was to examine the costs. During this examination, if we had noticed this type of cost

we would have reported them, but we didn't come across them, so we weren't looking for them, but we didn't find them either.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

That's a main concern. As you know, we are very concerned with spending public money. We do understand, and we do support the military college. We do recognize the fact that this is a special college, this is a special university with special needs, and we recognize it costs more for each and every student compared to other universities; but we just want to be sure that if there is some stupid money spending, buying the same object three times unnecessarily, and that kind of thing.... But I understand from your answer that you didn't pay attention to those details.

4 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

Again, we did an examination of the cost structure of the college. We didn't identify any costs that particularly concerned us as being frivolous. We did try to identify what we felt the factors were for why the cost was higher. Again, the low student-to-teacher ratio was one of those things.

If we had identified frivolous costs in the course of that, we would have reported them.