Special Staff Assistance Visit - Report on the Climate, Training Environment, Culture and ROTP Programme at the Royal Military College of Canada – Kingston

G.R. Maddison, D.G. Neasmith, BGen V.C. Tattersall,
Col A.M.C. Bouchard, LCol M.J. Dow, LCol A.J Gauthier,
CWO C.A. Halpin, CWO C.J. Thibault

Prepared for and Ordered by:
General J.H. Vance
Chief of the Defence Staff

10 March 2017

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada,
as represented by the Minister of National Defence, 2017


The undersigned concur with the content and recommendations within this report.

  • G.R. Maddison
    Vice-Admiral (Retired)
    Team Leader
  • V.C. Tattersall
    Chief of Staff
  • M.J. Dow
    Legal Advisor
  • C.A. Halpin
    Chief Warrant Officer
  • D. G. Neasmith
    Major-General (Retired)
    Deputy Team Leader
  • A. M.C. Bouchard
    Medical Advisor
  • A.J. Gauthier
    Chaplain Advisor
  • C.J. Thibault
    Chief Warrant Officer


The Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) is a unique national institution of considerable value to the country and its citizens. For over 140 years the graduates of the College have not only distinguished themselves as individuals, they have also made profound contributions in a wide range of endeavours that permeate throughout Canada and International society to this day.

These contributions result from being astronauts, academics, successful business and corporate leaders, and noteworthy elected officials to name a few - the vigorous and ethical leadership exhibited by graduates of RMC over the past century and a half have indeed been out of proportion to the size of the College and their achievements have been simply extraordinary.

It was this as background that all of the RMC Special Staff Assistance Visit (SSAV) Team members felt an overriding importance to uncover the legitimate and accurate foundation of reality of the existing culture experienced by the young Naval and Officer Cadets (N/OCdts) at RMC today.  Specifically, the SSAV Team examined areas relating to Command and Control, the Selection and Responsibilities of Staff and N/OCdts, Stressors, Morale, Support available and the College Four Pillars of Academics, Physical Fitness, Bilingualism and Military Leadership.

To achieve this, the SSAV Team spent five weeks in Kingston, Ontario conducting extensive interviews with N/OCdts, RMC staff and other key stakeholders that included former N/OCdts, graduates and parents and members of the College’s superior headquarters and other organizations. Interviews were subsequently conducted in other venues including Ottawa, Toronto and St-Jean, Quebec.  The SSAV Team also received extensive input from graduates of RMC and others via e-mail submissions. In every case, the SSAV Team expressed its appreciation for the information and integrity of thought that went into these submissions and assured those providing information, most of which was deeply personal and reflective, that the information would be treated with respect and in accordance with the Privacy Act. Interviewees were also assured that this Report would be written such that their anonymity would be protected.

In doing so, the SSAV Team worked hard at establishing an environment of trust, confidence and anonymity so that people felt comfortable in communicating openly with the Team. This resulted in the SSAV Team interviewing 412 people including 209 N/OCdts, across all academic years and programmes; and being in receipt of over 70 e-mail submissions.

During this process, the SSAV Team encountered female and male N/OCdts who were simply outstanding individuals in how they carried and presented themselves, as well as the mature, thoughtful and articulate way in which they expressed their views and concerns. The SSAV Team took away from these encounters that the environment at RMC is indeed one that can produce and develop positive character traits including truth, duty, valour, integrity and honesty.

This was an uplifting experience as these young men and women will soon be commissioned officers and will have the responsibility, as junior leaders, for the success of any assigned mission and for the welfare of all those they will lead.

Nevertheless, the SSAV Team did discover and identify a number of issues that need immediate and focused attention to achieve important improvements to the RMC programme and structures.  This is to ensure that the education and training experience continues to evolve so that the N/OCdts’ experiences while at RMC remain both challenging and positive to the benefit of the individual and to the benefit of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) upon graduation.

On the single occasion on which allegations of service offences were brought to the attention of the SSAV Team in the course of an interview and had yet to be communicated to the appropriate authorities, the SSAV Team brought those allegations to the attention of the RMC Chain of Command for their action.

To enable us to determine an accurate picture of the RMC tapestry of N/OCdt life and training, the SSAV Team is grateful for the high quality of support and engagement the Team received from the various components resident in the RMC peninsula not the least of whom were the Cadet Wing Commander and the entire Cadet Wing, the Canadian Defence Academy, the Commandant and all his staff, the Training Wing, the Principal and the entire Academic Wing, all the Personnel Support Programme (PSP) staff including those in the Athletic Department, and all the Support Staff.

It is with this as a backdrop that the details of this report now follow.

Executive Summary

The Special Staff Assistance Visit (SSAV) Team was mandated to assess the overall climate, training environment, culture, and Regular Officer Training Plan (ROTP) programme construct at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), and how these factors impact the morale, welfare and success of the Naval and Officer Cadets (N/OCdts) at the College.

As the institution responsible for developing these future military leaders, RMC must provide a positive and healthy learning environment for N/OCdts to ensure they have a solid grounding, both academically and militarily.  It was with growing concern over the climate at the College that the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) directed a SSAV, a unique tool used by the senior leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to obtain an understanding of the state of a unit or function.  In that regard, the SSAV Team, supported by a civilian and academic advisor, Dr. Phil Bates, RMC Vice-Principal Academic, endeavoured to conduct a thorough assessment, the results of which form the basis of the analysis and recommendations contained in this report.

RMC is a unit of the CAF facing challenges similar to those faced by any other military unit across Canada, including aging infrastructure, resource pressures, lengthy and complex processes mandated throughout the Government of Canada relating to administration, financial expenditures, information technology, and ongoing challenges in staffing both civilian and military positions.  However, with the mandate to deliver university level academic programmes in addition to military training and education, RMC is unique amongst other CAF units operating in this complex environment.

The SSAV Team interviewed and received input from more than 400 stakeholders including the leadership and staff from Canadian Defence Academy / Military Personnel Generation headquarters, RMC military, academic, and support staff and most importantly, more than 200 of the N/OCdts themselves. The Team’s open and consultative approach allowed for valuable and frank insight into the challenges and constraints, the positive and negative views and opinions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the training and learning environment at RMC.  This aided the SSAV Team in reaching a solid consensus regarding the assessments and recommendations that the Team believes are needed to address the challenges they observed.  

In broad terms, the overall climate at RMC has been influenced by a decade of resource pressures and higher priorities at the strategic level, which has resulted in RMC operating in an environment that has generally placed a lower degree of priority on the College. In that regard, the SSAV Team noted uncertainty amongst stakeholders regarding RMC’s mission and priorities, a significant level of tension between the Academic and Training Wings, N/OCdts who are cynical about their experience at RMC, and disconnects between how RMC employs more traditional learning and military training techniques, and the expectations of a new generation of tech-savvy and multi-tasking N/OCdts.

This report provides assessments and recommendations in five areas: (1) RMC’s Command and Control and Governance Framework; (2) Stressors affecting the N/OCdts; (3) Morale at the College; (4) Selection process and training of the military staff;  (5) Support programmes available to the N/OCdts; and (6) The Four Pillars programme where N/Cdts are required to meet established standards in four key areas considered germane to service as an officer in the CAF: academics, military training, physical fitness, and bilingualism (French and English).

RMC’s Command and Control and Governance Framework

This area concerned the various Regulations, Directives and Orders affecting RMC as a unit of the CAF, and the governance framework that supports the academic programme. The Team found that many of the governance framework instruments are out of date and in need of review.  The Team observed that the Cadet Wing Instructions, which are orders applicable to the day-to-day activities of N/OCdts, are overly restrictive and limit N/OCdts in the Cadet Chain of Authority in learning how to exercise sound judgement as developing leaders. Accordingly, these instructions would also benefit from a review.

Stressors affecting the N/OCdts

Through interviews with N/OCdts, the SSAV Team gained a good understanding of the positive and negative stressors that affect their experience. Amongst the positive stressors is the satisfaction of surmounting the obstacles presented by the intellectual challenge of earning a degree while building the character and leadership skills that the military environment demands. As well, a positive experience is the sense of belonging and camaraderie developed during the First Year Orientation Programme and through various sports programmes and keeping physically fit.  N/OCdts most often spoke of the high quality of education and support they receive from their professors, and many of the Training Wing staff.  

The negative stressors centered on inconsistent leadership exercised within the Training and Cadet Wings, unintended negative consequences in the implementation of defined leadership progression levels, the questionable quality and utility of the Professional Military Training programme, the coordination and time management of the Four Pillars programme, and the state of repair of some of the College infrastructure.  

An area that initially concerned the SSAV Team in terms of what observations might be expected is how female N/OCdts were being treated by their male colleagues. The message the Team received from the many female N/OCdts that were interviewed was that they felt safe day and night at the College; they knew what acceptable behaviour was and were able to communicate confidently and clearly to those few male colleagues who perhaps began to cross the line.  The Team observed that Operation HONOUR direction was being effectively communicated at the College, and it encountered one situation where a potential service offence was raised that had not already been brought to the attention of the proper authorities.

Morale at the College

At the time of the SSAV Team’s visit, the morale at RMC was assessed as between fair and good, but had been lower following the relatively recent deaths of some N/OCdts at the College.  Many N/OCdts spoke highly of their experience and appeared to thrive in the environment at RMC; however, the SSAV Team noted that morale was particularly low amongst those N/OCdts who struggle with the Four Pillars programme.  The Team assessed that morale was similarly low within the Support Staff, who have generally faced significant resource and staffing pressures in recent years.  Within the Training Wing, morale was assessed as fair as they feel the burden of responsibility for N/OCdts’ success.  Morale was assessed as relatively good within the Academic Wing.  The SSAV Team spoke with a significant number of military and academic staff who are proud to work and teach at RMC, value the institution, and remain passionately committed to providing the best possible programmes and experiences for the N/OCdts.

Selection and training of military staff

The interaction between military staff and the N/OCdts is extremely important.  Mentoring N/OCdts requires a specific set of human skills and leadership qualities to effectively engage with them in a positive and constructive way. In many respects, this human element of the military experience is the key to inspiring N/OCdts as they advance toward their future responsibilities as leaders in the CAF.

The SSAV Team assesses that with the exception of some key positions, no deliberate process is in place to ensure selection of Training Wing staff for RMC with the right balance of positive leadership attributes, military experience and diversity. Career Selection Boards across the CAF do not appear to have a consistent awareness of the role of Training Wing staff at RMC, the importance of their position or the necessary attributes when considering assignment of military personnel to these positions.

With respect to training, the SSAV Team determined that there was inadequate orientation and indoctrination for newly arrived military and academic staff.  Such training is critical for ensuring new staff have a common awareness and appreciation of their role as part of a unified team and understand what is expected of them and the N/OCdts. Orientation and indoctrination for newly arrived military and academic staff to RMC should be more comprehensive to ensure their understanding of the College mission, programme and priorities.  

Considering RMC’s mission to develop future leaders of the CAF, the SSAV Team assesses that it is very important to assign the best possible officer and non-commissioned member role models to RMC.

Support services

The SSAV Team assesses that the breadth and depth of support services for RMC N/OCdts is good overall.  Notwithstanding the challenges articulated in this report, support staff are highly committed to the success of the N/OCdts and work hard to offer high quality services.  That being said, the accessibility of services in terms of their location or availability outside of the daily class schedule should be improved.  The necessary information on where to find support services is readily available to N/OCdts.  However, the SSAV Team noted that the state of the infrastructure at RMC is in need of attention.  In particular, the College’s Massey Library no longer meets the needs of the N/OCdts and this deficiency should be addressed as a priority to support RMC’s learning environment. 

The Four Pillar programme

The Four Pillar programme represents the core of the RMC experience in striving to impart important qualities for an officer in today’s CAF through academic proficiency, leadership and military skills, physical fitness, and bilingualism.  In order to ensure success in this regard, it is clear to the SSAV Team that RMC must achieve the right balance across the Four Pillars for the most effective development of well-educated and well-trained junior officers.

The SSAV Team has made various observations regarding the content and execution of the programme.  First, the First Year Orientation Programme should be maintained and delivered using the most recent iteration of the associated training plan, which was assessed to be generally successful.  It should incorporate improvements to supervision, and content, and reduce the impact on the academic programme for First Year N/OCdts.  These measures will ensure a safe and challenging environment and a value-added experience for N/OCdts.  Second, a complete review of the Professional Military Training programme is required to make the programme more interesting, challenging, and relevant to the development of N/OCdts as they prepare to be leaders at their first unit assignments after graduation and commissioning.  

Third, the implementation of the Leadership Level Progression Model requires a critical review to ensure N/OCdts are provided with the leadership development opportunities each of them need and to avoid stigmatizing those who do not progress at the same rate as their peers.  Finally, as the report explores in detail, the CAF must determine what the Four Pillar programme “AFAN” designation really means in the context of the broader CAF and what specific added value it seeks from an RMC graduate.  This will go a long way toward finding the right balance, emphasis and prioritization of the demands that are placed on N/OCdts across the Four Pillars.

Ultimately, this report and its more than 70 recommendations support the SSAV Team’s overall assessment that RMC continues to be viable in delivering on its mission of producing well-educated leaders for the CAF; however, there are significant challenges that need to be overcome to improve the execution of the Four Pillar programme, the standards that have been set in each pillar and their implementation, the selection of leadership role models for the N/OCdts, the academic governance framework and some of the infrastructure at RMC.  The SSAV Team notes that the leadership, military, academic, and support staff at RMC have tried to address these issues, but have suffered from competing priorities and a degree of indifference on the part of the broader CAF.  It is clear that RMC would benefit from greater engagement by the senior leadership of the CAF to ensure that this important national institution is enabled in its mission to prepare future leaders of the CAF who espouse modern leadership principles and the values of the Profession of Arms.

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