Ex-Cadets and more in the news /plus Mike Kennedy has a few comments on the AG’s Report

Ex-Cadets and more in the News

How Canada can help solve the North Korea crisis

8816 Marius Grinius

Article

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From Canadian Armed Forces officer to airline executive: how this EMBA’15 grad did it

22040 Eghtedar Manouchehri

Article

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Canadian Rangers impress 2 CMBG Commander during visit to Northern Ontario

 19431 Michel Wright / 26317 Sarah Staples

Article

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RCAF contribution to Joint Task Force-Iraq adjusted

17876 Daniel MacIsaac

Article – page 8

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Why Parliament needs a dose of intelligence

Christian Leuprecht – RMC professor

Article

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Increasing the female presence in peace ops

15696 Jon Vance

Article

Canadian military personnel no longer have to pay income tax when deployed on international operations

Article

Canada’s top soldier talks North Korea, ISIS and military suicides in year-end interview

Article

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Canada sets aside two bunkers at military bases amid global uncertainty, North Korean threat

Sean Maloney, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada

Article

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Why Canada needs to revisit its stance on ballistic missile defence

H7860 Roméo Dallaire / 15456 Pierre St-Amand

Article

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Canada marks 61-years since first modern peacekeeping mission to Egypt

1032 Tommy Burns

Article

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RCMP & CFB Trenton Partner to send toys to remote communities in Northern Ontario and Labrador

21054 André Delhommeau

Article – short video

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Checking in with the chancellor

7771 Jim Leech

Article

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Hometown favourite loses opening draw in rematch of ’13 Trials final

7301 Earle Morris

Article

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Some Comments on the Auditor General Report

By 12570 Mike Kennedy

Mike Kennedy

Judging by the number of comments that appeared in last week’s edition, it would seem clear that the recent Auditor General’s report struck a nerve with readers of e-Veritas. Having now read through the report in detail – twice – I’d like to share a few perspectives of my own, and would be pleased to invite feedback from our readers.

My initial reaction to this report is that the rather sterile analysis that forms the basis of its substance is probably the kind of thing one would expect to see from a group of auditors. Likewise, the bland, carefully-worded response by the Chief of Defence Staff is exactly the kind of phraseology that the DND public relations bureaucracy is well-noted for churning out. It was interesting to see that the most intelligent and thoughtful response to the report came not from the man at the top, but rather from someone at the very bottom of the military hierarchy, namely Officer Cadet Eliza Bruce, whose insightful comments revealed a degree of wisdom far beyond her years. Well done, Eliza, and keep up the good work.

In any event, it’s clear that the recent report levels a number of serious criticisms at RMC, and to anyone who has ever attended the College as a cadet, at least some of these observations will come as no surprise. But having had some time to now reflect on the report, I think it’s equally clear that it comes up short in a number of respects. I would in fact suggest that there are three important considerations that are noticeably absent, but that need to be part of any future dialogue regarding RMC and its role in Canadian society.

The first relates to the cadets themselves. The report comments at some length on a number of their perceived shortcomings, but what it fails to acknowledge is the fact that the young people who come into the College are pretty good to begin with. In fact, I would argue that on the whole, the recruits that RMC typically attracts are exceptionally good, and a few noteworthy exceptions like myself, have been consistently so dating back to the days of the Old 18.

Unlike the vast majority of civilian universities, where admissions decisions are made almost entirely on the basis of a very impersonal evaluation of an applicant’s academic marks, simply getting into RMC requires prospective cadets to successfully make it through a much more rigorous and comprehensive selection process. Moreover, everyone who chooses to attend RMC does so of their own free will, and for those who stay for any length of time, we all know what they have to go through. So, I think it would be fair to conclude that the members of the cadet wing are a pretty talented and motivated bunch.

The quality of the end product produced by any institution depends to a very great degree on the quality of its inputs, and in this respect, RMC has always been fortunate to have pretty good raw material to work with. Certainly, as the AG report points out, there are problems at the College, but I think many of these are a reflection of deficiencies in the system itself, as opposed to flaws within the young people who come into it. As we know, the cadets did not create the system, and they can do virtually nothing to change it. That’s the prerogative of the senior staff to which cadets look for leadership, and they are the people who must ultimately accept responsibility when things don’t go the way they should.

The second glaring omission in the AG report is that, while it quite correctly notes that the stated mission of RMC is to produce career officers for the Canadian Forces, it fails to make any mention of the fact that Ex-Cadets have gone on to distinguish themselves in many other fields of endeavor. The products of RMC – both those who graduated, but also a great many who did not – have gone forth from the peninsula to rise to positions of senior leadership in business, government, the professions, academia, and many other walks of life. Each, in their own distinctive way, has served Canada very well.

In this respect, though many RMC graduates have gone on to very successful military careers, the College’s impact on Canadian society extends far beyond the realm of the armed forces. I would in fact argue that that as a result of the many and varied accomplishments of Ex-Cadets, RMC’s contributions to Canada are all of proportion for an institution of its size, and the products of the College can indeed be considered as being “nation builders” whose efforts have done much to shape Canada into the country that it has become today.

My final critique of the AG report is that much of its apparently unfavourable evaluation of RMC appears to be grounded in a very clinical, dollars-and-cents type of analysis. The report takes pains to point out that the cost of educating officer cadets at military college is significantly higher than that associated with putting them through civilian university, and concludes by saying that “the Royal Military College of Canada could not demonstrate that it produced officers at a reasonable cost”. Also worth noting, however, is that the good people who authored the report make no mention of exactly what they deem to be “reasonable cost”.

There is a fundamental problem with this line of reasoning, and that is, as anyone who has ever passed through the College will readily appreciate, the real value of being at RMC lies in the intangibles, the things that cannot be easily measured or quantified using any set of off-the-shelf metrics. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the real value of attending RMC is something that cannot be measured at all. It is the uniqueness of an experience – something which most of us only many years afterward come to fully appreciate – that is truly transformative and life-changing, and something that can never be fully understood except by those who have suffered through and endured it themselves.

The most important person in any publicly-funded organization is the taxpayer, and speaking now as one of them, I can certainly understand and appreciate the need for DND to be mindful of cost-effectiveness in managing its affairs. But to treat the evaluation of an institution like RMC strictly as a bean-counting exercise does a great disservice to the College. As Eliza Bruce quite correctly pointed out, it is the living history – the unique and indomitable fighting spirit, the sense of camaraderie and shared mission, the feeling of belonging to something that is much, much greater than oneself – that make RMC the great institution that it is.

As the Auditor General’s report has shown, it is a relatively straightforward exercise to calculate the financial costs of putting someone through RMC. However, what the authors of this report apparently have failed to understand – probably not surprisingly – is the fact that when cadets leave the College, they take with them some unique and special things that no amount of money could ever hope to buy.

One of the things that was particularly disappointing was to see the suggestion raised in certain areas of the media that continuing to operate RMC may not be worth it. Sure, closing down the College might save taxpayers a few bucks, but at what cost ? In a country that has become increasingly preoccupied with “inclusiveness” and “political correctness”, and one in which mediocrity seems to have become the commonly accepted standard, RMC stands out as a rare and enduring example of excellence, a place where young Canadians from every corner of this land are encouraged to come together as one, to reach beyond their limitations, and to strive to become the best they can be. Maybe I’m naïve and idealistic, but to me, that’s something worth preserving, and worth protecting if we have to.

It was 40 years ago this year that I myself had to leave the College, and readers of my past submissions will probably know that my own time at RMC came to a premature and unhappy ending. But much as I have always regretted the circumstances under which I had to leave, I have never regretted the decision to come here in the first place. Looking back now, I believe my own time at RMC, as brief as it was, gave me the opportunity to make many lifelong friends, and helped me to become a better professional, and a better Canadian, than I might otherwise have been. And for that, I am truly thankful.

In 25 years as a professional management consultant, I have often reflected on a timeless quotation from General Colin Powell, which I first came across many years ago in his superb autobiography My American Journey:

“Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.”

Powell himself was a graduate not of West Point but rather the lowly City College of New York. He began his career as a young black Lieutenant in an officer corps dominated by whites, some of whom made no secret of their racial prejudices. He survived two tours in Vietnam, and lived through the long and torturous rebirth of the U.S. Army that took place in the years after the war ended. And over the course of his 35 years of service, he overcame tremendous obstacles to rise to his country’s highest military office. His words of wisdom have provided me with valuable guidance in many of my own professional endeavours.

If there’s one thing I have learned in my own years of consulting, it may be that there are many people out there who can – and often do – make a living by crunching numbers or regurgitating data. But the qualities that I believe make a truly effective professional advisor – things like insight, judgment, and wisdom – are traits that can’t be taught in any graduate program, and that oftentimes have become all too rare in today’s world.

The AG report identifies varied and sundry  problems at RMC, and I am sure at least some of these problems are there. The report makes numerous recommendations for change, and some changes undoubtedly need to be made. But at the same time, I do find some of the sweeping generalizations that are contained within the report to be very troubling, and because of this, I do hope great care will be taken with any future decisions that are made as a consequence of this report.

The final thing I am going to say is, it really is a shame that this report was not done 40 years ago. If the members of the study team had been able to see what really went on at the College in those days, they probably would have had a collective heart attack. But as we were told as young recruits, if you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined the Royal Military College.

I am pleased to submit these thoughts for consideration by my fellow Ex-Cadets, and look forward to your comments and feedback.

TDV !

Mike

6 Comments

  • 6137 Wyn van der Schee

    December 4, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Well said, Mike Kennedy! Every time I visit RMC and have any sort of interaction with Cadets, I come away with the assurance that there is hope for Canada if its future in the hands of such young men and women. They are not saints, but when one compares their behaviour to the destructive shenanigans that are tolerated at other universities (no name, no pack drill, if I may use a time-honoured Army expression), one wonders which is providing the taxpayer the better value.

  • Griff Tripp

    December 5, 2017 at 1:51 am

    Mike, thank you for your comments. I concur. My time at Royal Roads was shorter than necessary to graduate, by choice, none the less there are no regrets for having that life altering experience. It is a time of which I am very proud not to mention having Jim Leach as a fellow classmate and Andre Boudreau as a senior, truly great products of RRMC and RMC. The experience did create many life-long friendships for me as well as evidenced by having dinner tomorrow night with a few of them including Jim Peacock 7419, Barry Millar 7407 and John Wood 7830 and our spouses.

    7818 Griff Tripp

  • ROBERT KOMPF

    December 6, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Here is the result of a little research. RLK

    The price of everything and the value of nothing…
    Source: Extracts of “PAUL BERNAL’S BLOG”

    Oscar Wilde had Lord Darlington quip that a cynic was ‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.‘ As with so much of what Wilde wrote or said, it’s more than just a nice turn of phrase – it hits at the heart of the problems of society.

    These days, our government, our businesses, our media and more seem to be dominated by what Wilde would have described as cynics. The idea that anyone in the ‘real world’ should even consider ethical, moral, philosophical or cultural values to be on a par with financial or economic ‘value’ appears whimsical, sentimental, even romantic. Hard-nosed, sensible, rational, practical people ‘know’ otherwise. It’s the economy, stupid.
    … and if Wilde’s saying applies to cynics, it can apply twice as directly to accountants, at least in their professional capacity. Accountants are taught, amongst other things, how to put together models of systems – in particular things like expense systems or tax systems – that allow you to ‘test’ different scenarios so as to get specific outcomes. Turning a set of rules into an Excel spreadsheet makes this easy – in some ways too easy – so that you can easily work out how to get the best from a system. You can look at the probability of getting a particular outcome, and look at the ‘downsides’ of this outcome. You can use this kind of logic to determine the best price to charge to a product – perhaps you’ll be better off selling a smaller number at a higher price, perhaps a larger number at a lower price.
    With a ‘good’ accountant all these kinds of calculations become relatively simple. You need to know prices, have a little bit of expertise in Excel, and be good at estimating probabilities (which is particularly easy in the era of big data) but not a great deal more than that.
    The problem is that its ease and attractiveness can be seductive and misleading. To borrow an old idiom, accountancy is a good servant but a very poor master. Being able to quantify things, to measure things, to compare and analyse can make it easy to miss the underlying issues. Focusing on the price makes it easy to miss the real value – and can turn what should be complex decisions based on combinations of ethics, morals, culture, empathy, philosophy and understanding of society into much simpler games based on numbers and calculations.
    That word game is the key – when all the values are removed, these things just become games. Mathematical games – where the key is to maximise your results. In the 1980s, when I began my working life, this attitude seemed to pervade almost everything – the growth of the use of spreadsheets mirrored what felt to me like a hardening of attitudes. The idea of ‘efficiency’ was king – and efficiency was intended in a very narrow sense. Cutting costs, maximising income, improving the bottom line… and this was seen as the key to almost everything in life.
    So what’s the problem with this? It seems sensible, doesn’t it? You can save money. You can make sure that you live an efficient, practical life – and maximise your results. In fact, you’d be stupid not to do it, wouldn’t you? Ultimately, it becomes a mantra, something basic and unquestioned. It becomes a way of life.
    One thing I won’t do, however, is play their game. I may not know the price of everything, but I do know that there are many things more valuable than money.

  • Doug (Shag) Southen

    December 8, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    Mike, thanks for this well-written op-ed Yes, the bean counters seem not to recognize the difference between cost and value.

    I also liked the insightful response from the Commandant and Principal, also published in this edition.

  • Chuck Oliviero

    December 11, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Mike, et al
    I concur completely wth all of your comments. The value of an experience cannot be measured in what it cost in dollars.

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