Save the Canadian Military Colleges

Jan 12, 2023

By LGen Michel Maisonneuve (retd) and Dr Danic Parenteau

In October 2022, we published a Vimy Paper entitled “Time to Reset the Military Colleges as Military Academies”. This paper argues for a fundamental review of the Canadian Military Colleges (CMCs) to include all the piecemeal adjustments that have been made to the institutions over the last 30 years in response to different critical reports. Our view is that many of the single recommendations contained in the different reports have been implemented, but that no overall review has taken place. As a result, the CMCs have lost their raison d’être as they moved away from their original and essential mission as military academies which we believe is to train and educate officers who are ready to serve in the CAF and undertake their responsibilities, and most important of all, to lead in operations.

As action on the overall Arbour Report is likely to begin, we thought our Vimy Paper could provide helpful suggestions for consideration by the different committees engaged in these changes. The paper contained five general recommendations which need to be studied further. This article will provide more details on some of these recommendations pursuant to different comments we received on the paper. We will also highlight areas within specific issues that need to be developed further by the appropriate staffs.

Creating a fifth pillar dedicated to the “Officer Profession”

A fundamental requirement of every officer should be their knowledge of the attributes of the military profession and the responsibilities attached to their nomination as officers with the King’s commission. We recommended a specific pillar that focuses on character education and professionalism coordinated by a specific pillar “owner” who would ensure the teaching and assessment of this aspect of the program. In fact, all pillars should have an “owner” whose primary responsibility should be its management. Currently, for example, there is no staff member at either CMC whose primary responsibility is the bilingualism pillar.

The idea would be to truly reconnect the CMCs to their raison d’être because the other pillars merely touch implicitly on the military profession itself. The profession itself has changed a great deal in the more than half century since the creation of the four pillars of the ROTP program. The part played by the officer and leader in the profession requires the development of updated and more complex competencies, capabilities and aptitudes, than simply those that are taught to Cadets today in the military pillar. In addition, in the current context, this approach would ensure graduates become true agents of cultural change through the development of “soft skills” including communication and interpersonal skills, resilience, conflict management and treating others fairly.

The program would be distributed throughout the time spent at the CMCs for ROTP-entry Cadets and include the study and discussion of the latest CAF ethical and doctrinal manuals. Additionally, the growing list of mandated programs that must be taught to military personnel should be integrated into this fifth pillar.

Ensuring all Officers follow a CMC Program on the Officer Profession (the “fifth pillar”)

We believe that a short program of some weeks should be developed that regroups all the requirements of the fifth pillar. All officers no matter their entry program in the CAF should then be required to attend a CMC to receive the required training and education in the profession of arms. This “short program” could be conducted at one or both CMCs in the summer period, for example, while the academic term is paused.

Once again, the aim of the program would be to ensure all officers, no matter their plan of entry or whether they attended one or the other of the CMCs, would understand the responsibilities inherent in the service of Canada through the profession of arms. Officers could be moulded into professionals and true agents of cultural change.

Reviewing the Place of the Academic Pillar in the CMC program

The academic pillar at the CMCs should only be one of the elements of the holistic program and not the primary reason for the CMCs. We postulated in our paper that the aim of the academic programs at the CMCs should be to develop within future officers an ability to think critically anchored in a broad culture at the service of the profession of arms. The core curriculum came about as a result of the Withers Report and is the first element that requires an overall review based on this vision.

This recommendation does not suggest a reduction or a depreciation of the importance of the CMCs as universities. As explained in our paper, there are many types of universities abroad and in Canada and the CMCs should retain their specific identities as military universities. This dual identity, as a military institution and an educational establishment, should not be conceived as a zero-sum game: military colleges can very well exist as military schools while at the same time being academic institutions. In fact, it is precisely as university educational institutions that the military colleges can truly serve the needs of officers. None of the other 102 universities in Canada has a comparable double mission, which is why the CMCs must maintain a relationship both with international military academies – institutions that face similar challenges as the CMCs – and with other civilian universities in Canada and abroad. 

The CMCs are necessarily small universities. The Royal Military College (RMC) as the larger entity has a vibrant research program as well as a large number of undergraduate programs in Arts, Sciences and in Engineering. Since its reopening, Royal Military College Saint-Jean has focused on delivering an undergraduate program in International Studies. An overall review of the academic programs at both CMCs should include an assessment of their relevance to the military profession. By comparing academic programs at foreign military academies to those at the CMCs, is it possible to improve their relevance to the military profession? The place of research within the two universities should also be assessed; does the research conducted support the teaching of academic programs, and thus the education of officers or, overall, the Canadian Armed Forces, or not? Does the research support the development of military solutions to difficult problems?

Involve the Faculty in Helping Students Develop Qualities Specific to the Profession

All programs should be assessed to ensure they support the overall production of professional military officers. As part of the effort to ensure faculty remain up to date with the needs of the CAF professional officer, an annual program of visits at CAF bases from all Services should be developed. These should include round table discussions between faculty and serving officers that highlight their responsibilities and provide feedback to faculty on the relevance of their area of expertise to service in the CAF. The development of an exchange program for faculty to serve in non-operational units and headquarters should also be examined.

There should be an effort to increase the number of military faculty at both CMCs, especially in the Arts departments. Specifying an appropriate number of faculty positions as military or Veteran-filled could be one approach. Service as a military member of faculty at one of the two CMCs should be recognised as important and valued for progression purposes.

Enhance the Military Pillar

We recommended increasing the length of postings for military personnel serving on staff of the CMCs. Alongside the recognition of the value of a posting as military faculty, this measure can provide incentives for those military personnel who have rotated through repeated operational postings to achieve some stability. We would recommend increasing the duration of postings of non-faculty military personnel to four or five years.

The position of Commandant at both CMCs should be fulfilled with an officer at the twilight of their career who can provide stability and sage advice without the pressure to aspire to higher rank. Even if the Commandant arrives at the mandatory retirement age, he/she should be retained beyond this milestone to remain at least in their position for five years.

A robust military multi-disciplinary program for Cadets of all branches and Corps should be developed with the aim of familiarising them with the demanding world of operations at the most basic level. This should include demanding exercises and leadership experiences that should be assessed and reported. Elements of this program already exist at the CMCs and should be examined for consistency and coherence between the two colleges.


In summary, responding to the comments of the Arbour Report and taking action on the recommendations regarding the CMCs will require a significant amount of staff work and study by a dedicated group of experts. There is also no question that the proposals above will require an adjustment of the terms of service of military personnel and may require increased funding for the CMCs. We believe, however, that there may be efficiencies and savings that can be found in some of the rationalizations proposed. Finally, we believe that this crisis provides an unparalleled opportunity to fundamentally review the CMCs to return them to their role as military academies. Their existence within the Canadian Defence Academy as the heart – the core – of the profession of arms is too important to not take action and reset the CMCs as military academies.

Lieutenant-général J.O. Michel Maisonneuve (ret), CMM, CSM, CD dedicated his life to the service of his country throughout a successful military career spanning 35 years. He spent an additional 10 years after retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as the Academic Director at Royal Military College Saint-Jean.

Dr Danic Parenteau, is Associate Professor, Philosophy & Political Science, Royal Military College Saint-Jean and holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and a master's degree in political thought from the University of Ottawa. He is also a graduate of the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean/Royal Military College of Canada.