LETTER TO THE DEPUTY MINISTER
To: Ms. Jody Thomas
Cc: Mr. Michael Ferguson
From: Rem Westland, A/ADM (IE), 1998 – 1999
Subject: AG Report (2017) on the military colleges
Dear Ms. Thomas:
Towards the end of my 9 month tenure as acting Assistant Deputy Minister I was sitting with the then-Deputy Minister in his office. It is likely the same office that you are sitting in as you read this letter.
One of the challenging files facing my Branch at the time was the closure of military bases and sale of surplus buildings all across the land. I was reviewing with the DM our successful disposal by long-term lease of Royal Roads and I shared with him my concerns regarding the capacity of the Corporation de Fort St. Jean to receive and then properly manage CMR. CMR had already been multi-purposed (recreation, conference centre, training). It was being used by the CF only for French language instruction.
The DM was growing impatient with the entreaties he regularly received from the few ex-cadets still reporting to him at DND and from the national ex-cadet organization regarding the future of RMC Kingston. The line up of those knocking on his door included every living former CDS and a great many other retired senior generals. He unleashed a bit of a diatribe (“Who do those guys think they are anyway?”) and then looked more closely at me than usual. And at the ring on my finger. I had never before, nor have ever since, seen what being gobsmacked looks like. “You’re not one of those?” And then he almost, literally, fell off his chair. An interesting moment.
At the time all I could say was “Yes. Class of ’70.” I knew I would not be holding the IE chair for much longer.
What follows, Ms. Thomas, is the answer I wanted to give to your predecessor’s question re. who I think we are. It is an answer that I share with the AG and his staff by copy of this letter.
We, collectively, have been senior officials in your – and other – departments in the federal and provincial governments, senior officers in the military, lawyers, academics, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, consultants, politicians, ship captains, pilots and astronauts. All of us credit, to a large extent, the military colleges for our personal and collective success. We have made significant contributions to Canada.
My purpose is not to quibble over the methods, thoroughness, or findings of the AG’s report. It will be up to you and your officials, and to the leadership at all levels in the CF, to ensure that the colleges remain as effective today and into the future as they were in our time.
I want to point to an aspect of education in the military colleges that is often overlooked by people who have not been there.
The philosophy underlying academic, military, and sports programs at the colleges is – and has been from the beginning in 1876 – to expose students to a wide range of learning experiences and training. By the time cadets enter into their third year they have all been taught the fundamentals of engineering, arts and sciences, management, military skills, and physical prowess. What the country receives with each graduating class is a core of competent individuals – maybe no more competent individually than most graduates of other universities and colleges and perhaps just as fragile – who understand each other to a depth of understanding that can be matched by the graduating classes of no other institutions of higher learning.
The debates among us, across employment categories, ranks, and disciplines, may be marked by intense disagreements but will always be civil. We, each one of us, know where the other is coming from. We trust the other’s intentions and we recognize a shared commitment to the values of truth, duty, and valour that were drilled into us during our most formative years. In an era when shared understanding and mutual regard – without which civil conduct is impossible – seems harder to come by, the contribution of the military colleges to Canada is perhaps more essential than ever.
Canada has thousands of us in its service. To have such a base of shared understanding and competencies accessible to the country’s leaders in the public and private sectors, and in the military, has always been – and will always be – invaluable.
As you and your colleagues work together, with the CF and with our politicians (a number of whom, in the House of Commons, are ex-cadets) to respond to the AG’s report, I exhort you – with words that reflect my mastery of the English language and of intricate concepts – to not throw out the baby with the bathwater.