CLaS is a Class Act: An Experience with Canadian Leaders at Sea


Image credit: MS Dan Bard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera, Canadian Forces Photo


by Ron Wallace
May 2024


Table of Contents

CLaS is a Class Act: An Experience with Canadian Leaders at Sea

It was a privilege to have been selected to participate, along with seven other candidates, in the Royal Canadian Navy’s Canadian Leaders at Sea (CLaS) outreach program, one that has as its primary objective to increase awareness about Canada’s armed forces, particularly the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Having grown up in Regina, Saskatchewan the opportunity to sail for two days aboard HMCS Regina was, to say the least, as humbling as it was exhilarating. Jeremy Samson, the Commanding Officer, was joined by Rear-Admiral Chris Robinson, Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, as they explained the increasingly challenging mandates for our navy to:

  • Maintain maritime domestic and international law in concert with the Canadian Coast Guard;
  • Promote Canadian diplomatic interests abroad while demonstrating Canadian values;
  • Provide national defence with decisive warfighting capabilities.

With a motto of “Floreat Regina” (Let Regina Flourish) HMCS Regina is a Halifax-class frigate ship with a complement of 198 naval personnel. Commissioned in 1993, it was the fifth vessel in her class of twelve built under the Canadian Patrol Frigate Project, and is currently assigned to Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC) at CFB Esquimalt.  Designed as a general purpose warship with a particular focus on anti-submarine capabilities she displaces 4,750 long tons (4,830 t) at 134.65 metres (441 ft.) in length and can attain a maximum speed of 29 knots (54 km/h or 33 mph).  


Photo courtesy of the author, Ron Wallace, taken during the CLaS program in May 2024.

Our time spent at sea with the men and women who serve in the RCN was not only impressive, it was inspiring. Drawn from all regions of Canada the crewmembers were disciplined, focussed and optimistic as they capably served under officers whose professionalism and commitment to Canada was unquestionable. With months spent at sea, in close quarters while working around the clock, this team of sailors reflected not just a broad demographic but a high-spirited diversity that is in step with a nation undergoing profound change. It was an honour to be counted briefly among these sailors who are so proudly, and capably, serving the nation. This is why the CLaS program is such an important outreach to Canadians: Our navy cannot reinvent and refit itself without the firm, and committed, support of knowledgeable Canadians. 

At a time when the Canadian Armed Forces is working to engage young Canadians, including new arrivals - many of whom may be unfamiliar with our history or the role and necessity of our Armed Forces – it faces many additional challenges like those mentioned by David Dunlop writing in the Canadian Naval Review:

Successive Canadian governments have not delivered predictable, sustainable and long-term funding for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) ships are examples of the unfortunate link between inadequate investment and capability gaps. The RCN and Canadians deserve clear, realistic and fully-funded commitments from our governments. We are now in the troubling position where status quo spending on defence will not even maintain a status quo of capabilities. As a percentage of GDP, we are spending less on defence today than we were in 2005. Our navy has performed superbly despite the resource constraints it faces. But it cannot perform well forever without proper support. Governments have a responsibility to care for the military, and fund it in ways that meet the needs for decades to come. A maritime state without a navy is like a king not wearing any clothes: sovereignty undressed. The RCN is in a state of deep crisis and decline. It is shrinking and we must act with resolve, and act soon.

Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee, Commander of the RCN, has highlighted such challenges arising from a decade-long recruitment crisis that has resulted in severe personnel shortages and aging equipment:

The RCN faces some very serious challenges right now that could mean we fail to meet our force posture and readiness commitments in 2024 and beyond... Despite their very best efforts, CFRG [Canadian Forces Recruiting Group] has not delivered the required intake for the RCN for over ten years.

These are critical issues for the RCN as many teams of qualified technicians experience staffing shortages of 20 per cent or higher while serving in this aging West coast fleet. The 1990s-era Halifax-class frigates are already at, or past, their 30-year life expectancy, but are to remain the navy’s primary surface combatant for at least another 15 years – into the 2040s. This is a considerable challenge especially since all 12 frigates will be required to fulfill Canada’s commitments to NATO and the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Meanwhile, the RCN needs to enroll 1,200 new people each year to maintain personnel levels, a target that with current recruitment practices seems increasingly unattainable. A recent report indicated that in 2022 94.1 per cent of the Canadian maritime fleet was listed as “serviceable to meet training and readiness requirements.” Today that number has fallen to 51.2 per cent. This decline in operational readiness has already led to embarrassing, missed opportunities in high-profile international engagements. 

The CLaS program provides a welcome wake-up call for Canadians. The professionalism and commitment of those serving in our navy must be complimented with an urgent, serious re-thinking of Canadian defence strategies to address how Canada maintains and renews our highly-professional naval human capital – probably our most valuable defence resource. In 2017 the Senate Defence Committee recommended that Canada respond with NATO member states to improve the quality of their respective naval fleets. In 2018, Canada began its most comprehensive peacetime fleet renewal with investments in 15 Canadian Surface Combatants, two Joint Support Ships, and six Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships. While necessary, many believe that this long-overdue commitment is insufficient. One observer wryly noted: “...the RCN has been doing so much, with so little, for so long, that now they are able to do anything with nothing forever.”  Canadians need to understand that our military is stretched so thin that it may soon be unable to effectively manage even basic domestic disaster responses. 

Canada has the longest three-ocean coastline in the world, much in the Arctic Ocean. Our nation is part of a global trading community of nations that compel measures to secure and defend our sea lanes. Regrettably, many consider Canada’s navy to have entered into a crisis, a deep crisis, one from which it may suffer irreparable harm. Minister of National Defence, the Hon. Bill Blair has voiced such concerns:

If what you have been doing for decades is no longer working for you, you can’t just keep on doing it. Over the past three years more people have left than have entered. That is, quite frankly, a death spiral for the Canadian Armed Forces. We cannot afford to continue at that pace. We’ve got to do something differently.

At a time when Canada is spending 1.33 per cent of GDP on defence, it is not only NATO allies who are encouraging Canada to meet agreed alliance spending targets of two per cent. Recently those calls have been joined by a bipartisan group of 23 U.S. Senators who have written to the Prime Minister prior to the 2024 NATO Washington, D.C. summit, “...we are concerned and profoundly disappointed that Canada’s most recent projection indicated that it will not reach its two per cent commitment this decade.”

Recognising that military procurement programs extend for decades, an immediate Canadian defence commitment of two per cent of GDP would accelerate preparations for a capable, future maritime fleet. This objective cannot be attained under current fiscal conditions. In a deteriorating, increasingly volatile international political environment, with evolving maritime threats, a modern naval fleet capable of defending Canadian interests at home and abroad is an imperative. Bold decisions will be required to secure Canadian maritime security and sovereignty. These decisions come at a time when the RCN is approaching a crucial point in its history. In spite of ongoing resource constraints, the RCN has performed admirably. However, sustaining this performance at a time of rising international political uncertainties will be increasingly difficult.

Due to failures in replacing supply ships and destroyers, Canada no longer has the ability to independently sustain deployed task group operations. The RCN, while at a point of acquiring a future fleet of Canadian Surface Combatants, Harry DeWolf-class Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships, Protecteur-class Joint Support Ships and potential new, not just modernized, submarines, needs more. The RCN urgently requires more investment in modern new ships if we are to address the operational challenges required to maintain Canada’s maritime sovereignty. In the emerging age of A.I. the RCN, a service steeped in naval traditions, must now be equipped to anticipate and meet international peacetime and warfighting challenges.

For more than a century the RCN has stepped up for Canadians – now Canadians need to step up for our navy.


About the Author

As a Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Dr. Ron Wallace has written about energy and security matters, particularly for the Arctic. He retired as a Permanent Member of the National Energy Board in 2016.


Canadian Global Affairs Institute

The Canadian Global Affairs Institute focuses on the entire range of Canada’s international relations in all its forms including trade investment and international capacity building. Successor to the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI, which was established in 2001), the Institute works to inform Canadians about the importance of having a respected and influential voice in those parts of the globe where Canada has significant interests due to trade and investment, origins of Canada’s population, geographic security (and especially security of North America in conjunction with the United States), social development, or the peace and freedom of allied nations. The Institute aims to demonstrate to Canadians the importance of comprehensive foreign, defence and trade policies which both express our values and represent our interests.

The Institute was created to bridge the gap between what Canadians need to know about Canadian international activities and what they do know. Historically Canadians have tended to look abroad out of a search for markets because Canada depends heavily on foreign trade. In the modern post-Cold War world, however, global security and stability have become the bedrocks of global commerce and the free movement of people, goods and ideas across international boundaries. Canada has striven to open the world since the 1930s and was a driving factor behind the adoption of the main structures which underpin globalization such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and emerging free trade networks connecting dozens of international economies. The Canadian Global Affairs Institute recognizes Canada’s contribution to a globalized world and aims to inform Canadians about Canada’s role in that process and the connection between globalization and security.

In all its activities the Institute is a charitable, non-partisan, non-advocacy organization that provides a platform for a variety of viewpoints. It is supported financially by the contributions of individuals, foundations, and corporations. Conclusions or opinions expressed in Institute publications and programs are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Institute staff, fellows, directors, advisors or any individuals or organizations that provide financial support to, or collaborate with, the Institute.


Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Cgai Staff
    published this page in Commentary 2024-05-29 15:07:14 -0400

Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 2720, 700–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3V4


Calgary Office Phone: (587) 574-4757


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6


Ottawa Office Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: [email protected]


Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.


©2002-2024 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email