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AG Report: 8475 Rem Westland pulls no punches in 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.

Rem Westland

RMC #8475


  • Dr. Harry Kowal

    December 11, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Rem, Thank you so very much for your tremendous support for RMC and for your remarkable insight into the value added of the RMC education.


    14458 Harry Kowal
    Principal RMC

  • Pierre Ducharme

    December 11, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    I don’t think I am going out on a limb when I say your letter makes us all proud. Thank you.
    PS If you feel the reader would understand such a thing, you might ask him where he thinks the ethos of the FC originates.

    Pierre Ducharme
    Class of ’74

  • Paul Hession

    December 11, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Bravo, Rem. RMC and CMR need more vocal champions like you who will help to ensure that the military colleges will continue to thrive and produce exemplary leaders and citizens for Canada.

  • Don Kennedy

    December 11, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    A metric missed by the AG: of the final 30 candidates (out of the initial 4,800 excellent Canadians who made initial application) for the latest recruitment program for the Canadian Space Agency’s astronaut program, 10 were ex-cadets. How does that happen, if the College is just another run-of-the-mill diploma mill? No other Canadian institution can brag of such quality.
    Another aspect that the AG missed: the cadet day is somewhere between 14 -18 hours long, depending on faculty and cadet appointments held. I reckon a civilian university day is more akin to 8 to 10 hours. Those extra hours help the College turn out a better product. Naturally, the CF cannot publicly rate the academies jn which our cadets are enrolled. To do so would shatter the brotherhood of the officer corps. The CF has enough personnel chasms without adding to them.
    En tous cas, thank you Rem for taking up the torch.

  • John Whitaker

    December 11, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    Bravo Zulu Rem. You give a necessary emotional touch to the defense of our beloved College. The point you make that, not only the Military, but also many government agencies and industries benefit greatly from our particular skills, is vitally important.

  • John Watson

    December 11, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    In true auditor fashion, they know the cost but don’t have much of a feel for the value.
    Yes the average cost of civilian universities is much less than RMC, but that is in part because of the many first and second year classes taught in huge lecture halls by underpaid grad students. (Many tenured faculty are too busy doing reseach to teach early undergraduate courses). In addition, many popular degree programs produce graduates who cannot find employment in their field and bounce around in low paying jobs until they have picked up enough street smarts to move up the food chain. That is an ineffiencient use of resources not picked up in cost audits. They do a good job in STEM programs, but I’ll bet they don’t cost much less than RMC degrees.
    I am an old, cranky member of RMC ‘66 who spent a good chunk of his working life in senior management of post-secondary education.

  • Steven Poole 10472

    December 11, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    I agree the AG report did not pick up the benefit of full time ‘military socialization’ and having the cadets at a young age develop all 4 pillars. Neither did it compare length of careers by entry program. The AG report showed the cost comparisons of the different ROTP and DEO programs. It bothers me that the DND response to the AG report did not demonstrate the better ‘product’. In fact the report showed some significant discipline issues with third and fourth year cadets who we rely on to foster the military values. The type of degree graduate rate seems to have shifted dramatically over the years. As commented earlier, I was stunned last year to meet a graduate second year cadet at a local gym here in Ottawa in early May and noticed he was a cadet in his RMC sweats. I asked why he wasn’t on grad parade – the answer – ‘I wasn’t tasked for grad parade’. The AG is saying that RMC is expensive – but could find no evidence of the better value to produce an Officer. I am not sure producing better citizens can be a primary goal.

  • D. Norman Morris

    December 11, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    As an ex-cadet and a CA CPA (RTD) I feel that the AG has no sense of the culture of the Graduates produced by RMC. Rem Westland does have that sense and has explained it very well.

  • Paul Crober

    December 11, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    Best comment yet: “auditors know cost but not value.” Frequently they are totally unqualified to render judgement in value. Many conflate cost with value. I have worked with so many auditors and assessors that have done real damage because of this approach.

  • 8899 Al Crosby

    December 11, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    I hope we are not in an echo chamber, listening to ourselves try to rationalize away some of the criticisms made by the Auditor General of the college. References to the Special Staff Assistance Visit (SSAV) report were disheartening and reading about suicides and sexual assault was particularly heinous. The world is changing fast and we have to meet the challenges raised in the AG Report with greater introspection. We need to constantly change our attitudes and behaviours to be successful in the future. As Ray Dalio says in his book Principles:
    “collective decision-making is so much more powerful than individual decision-making. If you do that well, it’s not a problem.”
    All leaders know this to be true. Rather than be defensive, we can collectively and respectfully critique the recommendations to help fix these problems.

  • 8475 Rem Westland

    December 12, 2017 at 10:57 am

    I agree, Al. The responsibility to always keep the military colleges contemporary lies with CF, departmental, and political leaders of the day.

    What the military colleges contribute to Canada, through the graduates, is a capacity to decide things and act collectively that is learned in few other institutions of higher learning. We all know that the winner of the obstacle course could not have made it without climbing over the shoulders of the class members who stood at the bottom of the wall and gave the boost. We learned early on to have confidence that the fellow on the top would then reach down and pull up the ones who boosted from the bottom.
    I agree re. the worry about suicide and mental health. All of us, individually, are just as fragile as anyone else. It seems we live in a time of increasing stress and individual despair. What the colleges may need are courses that teach emotional and psychological interdependence to add to the physical and social skills that were uppermost in our day?

  • 16142 JJ Smith

    December 12, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Rem Westland’s letter to the Deputy Minister is misdirected. Better it was sent to the Chief of the Defence Staff. The Deputy Minister exercises no authority over RMCC (or CMR St-Jean) in matters relevant to the Auditor-General’s findings. Canada’s military colleges are governed in fragmented fashion through military lines of command including RMCC’s apparently ineffective Board of Governors (for which see paragraphs 6.60 et seq. of the Auditor-General’s report). Indeed, the problem of needed reforms at RMCC may stem from the absence of effective civilian oversight. Consider the example of the stalled numbers of lady cadets entering both military colleges and their pronounced attrition rates from the CF after graduation. There’s the new baby and bathwater for the 21st century: A cadet (and graduate) demographic that represents a Canada to which we graduates purport to make an outsize contribution.

  • 8475 Rem Westland

    December 12, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    The suggestion that the CDS may be better placed than the DM, or the Minister better placed than both, to consider what is special about the military colleges (justifying higher costs) is a good one. I think it is a matter for everyone involved to contemplate.
    To my mind, what makes our background unique (the “baby” in the bathwater) is my feeling that – while I doubt I have ever met number 16142 – we kind of know each other. I have recently moved to St. Andrews. I attended a community meeting among strangers where a person rose to speak against a position I had argued for…and I knew right away where that person was coming from. It was an ex-cadet, and successful businessperson, two decades behind me. We agreed to disagree and have lunch together. Senator Ben Sasse (US) laments in “The Vanishing American Adult” the erosion of shared values among graduates of US colleges and universities. It means, he writes, that debate is reduced to the shouting of slogans. Without shared values, he says, mutual regard and trust cannot survive the onslaught of contemporary issues. For trust to survive the onslaught of enemy forces in war requires, I am sure, a very solid base of shared values and experiences indeed. We, all of us, got this at the colleges.