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Forces' push to get recruits set to fall short

Military to double ad budget to meet Tory pledge for thousands of troops

James Gordon, Ottawa Citizen, 27 Sept 06


Ongoing recruitment challenges are putting at risk a Conservative government promise to expand the Canadian Forces by 13,000 soldiers and boost the reserves by 10,000 more, according to documents tabled in Parliament.


Spending estimates and plans also reveal the Forces will double their advertising budget to $15.5 million this year -- including costs associated with a flashy and sometimes controversial new recruitment advertising campaign -- to cope.


"Despite numerous recruiting and retention efforts, a number of military occupations remain critically short of personnel," the document notes, citing doctors and pharmacists, signal operators and various air force and naval technical positions.


Recruiting and retention "will remain problematic in the foreseeable future for a variety of reasons, such as elevated academic standards; high medical standards; competition from the private sector and shortages of certain skill sets in Canadian society."


The military currently boasts 62,000 regular force members and 25,000 reservists.


Efforts to address recruiting challenges include new television and movie theatre advertisements urging citizens to "Fight Fear. Fight Distress. Fight Chaos. Fight with the Canadian Forces," over scenes of troops rescuing hostages and sneaking up on an enemy compound.


According to the estimates, the Forces will get a previously unannounced $7.5-million infusion into its advertising budget this year, bringing the total to more than $15 million.


A spokeswoman for the Department of National Defence said direct costs associated with creating the new advertising campaign, including production and research, is $3 million. It doesn't include costs of running them, however.


The ads have garnered publicity recently for the decision to remove an urging to "fight terror" after the phrase tested poorly in focus groups. Critics also attacked them for not featuring women in enough prominent roles and presenting a "Rambo"-type view of the Forces.


The estimates also reveal the military plans to target specific ethnic communities, reflecting "an increase in immigration from non-European countries."


In addition to an existing recruiting office in Surrey, B.C., targeting the Indo-Canadian community, the Forces plan to open another in Richmond, B.C., aimed at drawing in Chinese-Canadians. More community-specific offices are planned to span across Canada.


The strategy appears to build on news in August that the Forces are considering dropping Canadian citizenship as a prerequisite for service in order to boost troop strength.

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