Chief of the Defence Staff 2023 Focus Areas

February 8, 2023 - Defence Stories

Message from CDS

Now that we’ve kicked off 2023, I want to provide an update on the state of the Canadian Armed Forces, my updated focus areas, and the way forward. I still view our primary role as continuing to provide a force that delivers operational excellence in a manner that reflects Canadian identity and values and of which Canadians remain proud. This role is becoming increasingly more difficult as our geopolitical environment shifts at a rapid pace, and we must remain dedicated to propelling this institution forward to achieve our aims. All of us have a part to play in doing so.

We live in an era of a deteriorating global security situation, where the norms, behaviours, and relationships that have underpinned the rules-based international order are at risk from highly capable hostile actors. Simply put, Canada and its allies confront a multidimensional threat environment that undermines democracy and its institutions, which are under attack by adversaries who seek to establish an order based on authoritarianism.

Our armed forces, as the institution charged with defending our country, has an ever more important role to play as global security declines around us, and in the years and decades ahead, we will be called upon more and more to act. This stark reality gives us focus, purpose, and meaning.

What does that mean for us? First, we must remember that the role of the military in a democracy, the hallmark of military professionalism, is to serve the will of the people represented by their duly elected officials. It means that even though we are a reflection of the culture norms/values of Canadian society, the added trust and responsibilities we have necessitates a higher level of conduct that is beyond reproach.

Next, it means doing what we can, within our own sphere of influence and control, to be the best that we can be at our profession, to be solid leaders and teammates, while all the time looking after our subordinates, each other, and ourselves. It means being individually ready for whatever may come and resilient in the face of challenge. Indeed, I am under no illusion as to our challenges as an institution. In fact, I am reminded that the CAF has always had challenges throughout its history and, as we face the challenges of today, we would all do well to remember the good things and the tremendous strengths that define us as members of the profession of arms. Our honourable purpose, unwavering commitment, teamwork and camaraderie, and enduring selfless service have never been more important to bring to bear than now.

For me, all of this means channeling my own energy and bandwidth toward four focus areas, or lines of effort, that I believe are necessary for us to rebuild our readiness and the armed forces. They are Reconstitution, Culture, Operations, and Modernization. I do not label them ‘priorities’, as they are all closely linked, indeed, mutually supporting, and must advance in parallel, with individual activities within them moving up and down the list as circumstances demand.


Reconstitution is a term many of us in the military are already quite familiar with, and we apply reconstitution measures often at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels, as needed to restore units to an acceptable level of readiness. The intent of CAF Reconstitution is to rebuild our personnel strength by concentrating on recruiting, retention, and modernizing our personnel system. The limiting factor, a strategic resource, is mid-level leadership, which must be well-targeted on high value activities. There is no silver bullet for Reconstitution, no one activity that we can stop doing to redirect capacity. Rather, every activity we undertake, every new task that is offered to us, every new policy, must be viewed through the lens of reconstitution. What does it cost us if we do it? What relative value does it add?  What are the risks and impacts if we delay or stop doing it? How does it serve the institution as a whole? I ask you all, especially those of you in command positions, to take a critical eye on our activities.

There are many initiatives underway that will support Reconstitution, too numerous to list here.  Recruiting modernization is proceeding apace, concentrating on streamlining the process, including medicals and the on-line experience, and increasing advertising and attractions activities. We have recently opened all occupations to permanent residents, and in the weeks that followed we received thousands of applicants from those who wish to offer meaningful service to their new country. As well, beyond recruiting, work is underway to increase efficiencies in the training pipeline, to reduce wait times and look at creative ways of achieving individual qualifications while addressing what I like to call our “quality of service” through a range of retention initiatives.  In all respects, everything is on the table.


The culture of our institution is another area on which I continue, like you, to put much focus.  Our culture is a tangible manifestation of who we are as a military. We need to be a military that reflects and lives up to the values and professional expectations articulated in the Canadian Armed Forces Ethos: Trusted to Serve, published last year. I ask all of you to weave it into the fabric of your lives. 

Our culture, rightly in my view, has come under much scrutiny in recent years. Having an inclusive, respectful, and safe workplace where all feel they belong and can contribute to our larger mission of defending the country is essential. Likewise, we need to inculcate more of a culture of innovation, calculated risk tolerance, continuous learning, security awareness, and reframing our situational understanding. At the same time, our culture must continue to promote selfless service, the willingness to go into harm’s way to get the job done, and the protection of others. 

There is concrete action underway at the strategic level as well as grassroots activities at the unit level, and we are being held accountable for our progress. This includes the ongoing implementation of the recommendations from the Independent External Comprehensive Review, and the recent update to Parliament on our efforts. It is most certainly too early to declare success, and I know that there will be failures and missteps along the way - we are, at the end of the day, a human organization - but we must continue to learn and progress, take the higher road and stay above the fray.

We must continue to go forward focusing on this existential aspect of our profession, always remembering that we need to adapt and accept risks to achieve meaningful change, and in everything that we do we must serve Canada in line with the expectations of Canadians, however they may evolve, and ultimately always do the right thing.


While we reconstitute and evolve our culture, the operational demand has not and will not subside. That said, I am viewing every ongoing operation and new demand through the lens of reconstitution. In doing so, we must consider several questions: What can we realistically generate and achieve the necessary strategic effect? What is the opportunity cost? How can we maximize deployment opportunities for our junior members while continuing to grow the CAF? What activities or other operations are we willing to cease so we can undertake new ones?

The situation in Ukraine is a case in point. This is, literally, the front line for defending the rules-based international order (or truly the front line of freedom) and we must maintain our resolve to do our part, without widening the war, to see Russian aggression defeated. To do this we must continue to evolve our training, equipment, and other supports as the war progresses. This will not be a short-term commitment.

Rebalancing our footprint in the world based on national priorities is a constant challenge. The recently released Indo-Pacific Strategy is another example, where we will be very targeted in what, when, and who we deploy, especially balancing the capabilities of the Royal Canadian Navy between this region and the rest of the world. Adding to this requirement for balance, we will continue to be heavily engaged in Europe with Operations UNIFIER and REASSURANCE, and increasingly so with our presence and expertise in the Arctic and other areas of continental defence. It will not be easy, and we’ll not be able to satisfy all as everyone wants more CAF.


We cannot be so consumed with the challenges of today that we mortgage our future, and thus modernizing the CAF continues to be an area of focus. We must continue to implement the plans set out in Canada’s defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged as well as those that are part of NORAD Modernization. We must continue with our efforts to bring about a digital force, built on standards and technologies that empower CAF joint operations and operations with our partners and allies. We must continue to develop our future operating concepts and force structure and fortify operational sustainment as a function that underpins all operations at home and abroad.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has shown us many lessons about both the changing character and the enduring nature of war. We must incorporate these lessons, from the tactical to the strategic, with a sense of urgency.

This speaks to the absolute criticality of the forthcoming Defence Policy Update that was directed last spring. I strongly believe it must address a host of critical concerns that underpin our readiness to defend Canada, Canadian interests, and national prosperity in the dangerous years ahead.


We are on the cusp of tremendous change, in each of these four focus areas and beyond, and that change will only be possible with you, and those with the dedication like you, serving our country. Military service is not easy, but it is does provide a transcendent purpose – to be part of something bigger than one’s own self and truly focused on the greater good.

We face difficult times, times that require resilience and commitment. I am committed to doing everything I can, with the time I have left to serve, to constantly improve our armed forces, your conditions of service, and ultimately our ability to succeed in operations and in war.

Your country will need your service more and more into the future, even though all may not fully appreciate the magnitude of the growing threats. I ask all of you to look after your subordinates and colleagues, your families and friends, and yourselves—you are all part of a force for good in a dangerous world. At the end of the day, we will continue to be called upon to do many things, but we must not forget that the ultimate manifestation of a military’s role is to fight and win. If we truly keep ourselves focused on this objective, we will succeed while continuing the sacred legacy of service of those who came before us.


W.D. Eyre

Chief of the Defence Staff

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