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A call to revive university military training program

The time is right to re-establish the Canadian Officers Training Corps program at universities, according to defense experts. Lee Windsor, deputy director of the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick, said the program came across with good benefits for a comparatively small investment.

The COTC program was offered at Canadian universities from 1912 until 1968.

“I think that the program has obvious merit,” said Windsor. “It’s a training and development investment in Canada’s future. I think it makes better sense to think of it as a training and development opportunity and citizenship development opportunity (and) think about it as a program of generating military manpower.”

“It introduced university undergraduates to a form of military service on campus, providing them with leadership and other military training and preparing them to join the reserve or the regular force if they wished to do so,” Windsor said.

“It exposed them to the idea of service itself and it gave them a tremendous amount of leadership training,” Windsor said. “Universities across Canada had this program whereby undergraduate students would be exposed to the basics of officer training. It didn’t necessarily mean they would be career officers, it’s just that they got a little taste of army life and the way an infantry platoon commander would behave in performing small tasks.”

The Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) recently commended the Senate standing committee on national security and defence for its interim report on the future role of Canada’s Primary Reserve. It recommended the Department of National Defence/Canadian Forces consider re-establishing a military presence on the campuses of educational institutions.

The recommendation arose from a proposal that was submitted to the committee by the Breakout Educational Network to establish a modern version of the COTC program.

Alain Pellerin, executive director of the CDA, an Ottawa-based group established in 1932 to study the problems of defence and security and to promote the efficiency and well-being of Canada’s Armed Forces, said he believes the time is right to reinstate the program.

“I think the military is very popular in the public eye,” Pellerin said. “I think the universities wouldn’t want to be out of step and say we don’t want the COTC program. I think the time is right and it’s a sound investment in our society.”

It’s not something that would cost a lot of money, Pellerin said.

“It is not something that the government would get bad publicity if they move ahead on something like that. I think it is a win-win situation.”

Pellerin said he’s optimistic it may be embraced by the government.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s director of communications, Jay Paxton, said the Canadian Forces maintain a presence at Canadian universities similar to that provided by the cadet officer training corps in forms more suitable to today’s environment.

One plan allows local reserve units to engage full-time university students as officers in the primary reserve, he said.

“During the academic year, these officers parade or train with their units and, in summer, they undertake full-time military training and employment,” Paxton said.

“Another plan, called the regular officer training plan, is designed to support officer cadets at university. Under this plan, officer cadet’s train in the summer, study during the school year and, upon graduation, transfer to the regular force.”

The Senate report, released in December, said the long-standing role as the Canadian Forces’ link with Canadian communities should be formally and more clearly defined.

Windsor said, traditionally, the old Canadian Officer Training Corps had been one of the best ways to expose university students to the idea of the role of the armed forces.

“It exposed them to the idea of service itself and it gave them a tremendous amount of leadership training,” Windsor said. “It didn’t necessarily mean that they would be career officers, it’s just that got a little taste of army life.”

The result was participants felt they were better equipped with all kinds of life experiences and challenges they would encounter later in their careers.


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