From Cold War to Present Day


Implementing Unification

Canadair CC-106 Yukon transport, Air Transport Command, Royal Canadian Airforce, 1967

Caption: Canadair CC-106 Yukon transport, Air Transport Command, Royal Canadian Airforce, 1967

In May 1967, Parliament passed Bill C-243, thus completing the process of reorganizing the national headquarters and commands. The three forces were dissolved and all military ranks had to comply with the new terminology of a single command. A common system was devised for personnel evaluation, selection and promotion. Committees began the search for a common uniform and the traditions to be observed by a unified force. The old names of army, navy and air force were abandoned in favour of the designations land, sea and air elements. A single command and a single force became the watchwords.

Most servicemen and civilians had envisaged unification as a possibility consigned to a distant future somewhere in the 1970s that might as well have been never. But the minister insisted: For Hellyer, 1968 represented the "few years later" he had spoken of in 1964 when announcing unification. The champion of change against the forces of inertia, he succeeded in getting Bill C-243 passed. To ensure its application, the minister gave the four maple leaves to the only general he considered worthy of the job. In his memoirs, Jean V Allard, the only French-Canadian lieutenant-general up to that time, recalls his appointment as Chief of the Defence Staff - the man who would, when Bill C-243 came into force on 1 February 1968, guide the destiny of the unified force into uncharted and highly troubled waters.

In 1964 neither the minister nor the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee could rely on the services of independent personnel to assess the demands from each of the old forces or plan for the armed forces as a whole. No precise plan or timetable had been drawn up for the stages of unification; thus they would occur somewhat randomly. This approach stirred up concerns among parliamentarians and the public. There was even greater confusion among members of the military, who, whether at National Headquarters or in the commands, were getting little in the way of specific orders. The entire period 1964-72 was dominated by a single ever-present constant: change. Although all the convulsions took place in the military, they had been prescribed by civilians, primarily the minister and his circle.

Canadian Forces unification was not copied elsewhere. Yet this is less a judgement on the value of the product than on Canada's unique circumstances and qualities: a huge territory, a small population (and thus a limited number of combatants), a weak military tradition based on voluntarism, the object of none but indirect threats to national security, neighbour to an allied superpower.

Although unification did succeed in reducing, by however little, the staff at National Headquarters in Ottawa - this is hard to calculate, given the changes in the responsibilities of other headquarters and the creation of new ones - the anticipated savings never materialized. Here again, unification is hardly responsible for the meagreness of this result. As of 1968, galloping inflation ate up much of the savings that might have accrued.