A concerning drop in the morale of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members, primarily attributed to the rising cost of living and frequent relocations, has been highlighted in a recent report by the Canadian Forces Chaplain General Brig.-Gen. Guy Bélisle.
“Military chaplains are witnessing a surge in financial distress among soldiers, sailors, and aircrew, which is a direct result of the ongoing economic challenges,” Bélisle stated in the briefing note dated July 26, 2023.
Key factors highlighted in the report include recent alterations to the Post Living Differential (PLD) – a measure designed to assist military personnel with the cost of living and the challenges of frequent moves. Bélisle’s note said, “Though unintended, these changes, concurrent with CAF efforts to reconstitute the Force, has led to many in the ranks feeling undervalued and underappreciated.”
Chaplains across the country have observed that the morale within the CAF has been significantly lower in recent times than in previous reporting periods. These observations are based on a combination of changes to PLD, the escalating lack of affordable housing, increasing living costs, and staffing shortages. Such factors have intensified the pressures faced by CAF members and their families.
Despite the PLD policy being under development for nearly 15 years, meant to aid lower-ranking members in handling high housing costs in Canadian cities, it has faced challenges. Thousands of higher-ranking members, previously beneficiaries of the housing offset, now stand to lose this advantage.
On the matter, Bélisle’s report mentions, “Many chaplains continue to report increases in requests for funds to assist members who are struggling with rising housing and food costs.” Supportive entities such as the military family support foundation, Together We Stand (TWS), have only been able to offer limited respite.
Yet, amidst these concerns, there is a silver lining. Bélisle highlighted that efforts aimed at reforming the Canadian Forces‘ culture are being noticed and appreciated. “On the positive side, some members have noted that their workplace seems to be getting psychologically safer,” he said, emphasizing the reduced stigma around discussing challenges.
According to CBC News, while talking about the challenges faced by CAF members, Bélisle said “CAF members and their families are grappling with the same issues as other Canadians.” He highlighted the pandemic’s fallout, rising housing costs, and societal changes as shared concerns.
The Department of National Defence is taking steps to alleviate the stress of these changes. A new initiative, the Provisional Post-Living Differential, will gradually reduce the assistance given until 2026. In addition, the Canadian Forces Housing Differential (CFHD) has been introduced, focusing specifically on housing affordability.
The department also mentioned a 12 per cent pay hike for ordinary military members, spread over four years and retroactive to 2021.
Chaplain General Bélisle remains hopeful. Speaking about the role of chaplains, he said, “As chaplains, we’re here to bring hope. We support and walk with them through these challenging times. And we’ve got a lot of hope.”