Leaders in business, government, academia get immersive RCN experience
By Ryan Melanson,
A group of seven civilian leaders from both the public and private sector got a crash course in the work of Canada’s maritime forces recently, donning Naval Combat Dress and spending three busy days at CFB Halifax over September 6-8 as part of the RCN’s ongoing Canadian Leaders at Sea (CLaS) Program.
The whirlwind three-day tour had to deal with some last minute changes that ended up highlighting the importance and unpredictability of naval business, as a planned night at sea in HMCS St.John’s was cancelled to allow the ship to begin preparing to sail to the Caribbean for Hurricane Irma relief work. Still, the CLaS group spent time at sea in HMC ships Moncton and Montreal and alongside aboard HMC ships Toronto, Ville de Québec and HMC submarine Windsor, saw new CAF equipment with a Cyclone tour at 12 Wing Shearwater and a visit to Irving Shipbuilding facilities, observed cutting-edge training with Campus Atlantic’s bridge and submarine simulators, participated in weapons and boarding party demonstrations, observed numerous other exercises and scenarios, and spent time with RCN personnel from junior ranks up to senior officers.
The goal is to give the guests the unique and often-thrilling opportunity to sail on the platforms and get thrown into the military environment, but also to leave them with a deeper understanding of the RCN and its work defending Canada and supporting allies both domestically and abroad.
“We bring them in, they absorb that experience and messaging, and hopefully they’ll go back to their own networks and help us get that message out there,” said RAdm Craig Baines, Commander MARLANT/JTFA, who spent some time at sea with the visitors.
The members of the group came to the base from different backgrounds and with different levels of familiarity with Canada’s Navy and the CAF environment. Tom Birchall for instance, as HCol 12 Wing Shearwater, acted almost as a second tour guide through familiar base locations, while BMO representative Matthew Lombardi also has a strong link to the military community through his company’s defence banking initiatives.
Others, like Blair Colquhoun, the CEO of environmental analytics firm Paracel Laboratories, came in with a cleaner slate. Colquhoun said he was struck by the level of activity on the East Coast and the progress toward new buildings, new ships, and new types of training and operations that he was informed about over the three days.
“The mere fact of how much work is going on in the dockyard and with shipbuilding and in Shearwater with the new helicopters, is astounding. I had a little bit of an idea, but seeing it firsthand is different,” he said.
Colquhoun ended up with a spot in the program by chance, after being seated next to RAdm Gilles Couturier, Deputy Commander RCN, on a recent flight from Ottawa to the West Coast. The two struck up a conversation, he said, and by the time they landed, an invitation to participate in the intensive RCN experience had been extended.
“I couldn’t be happier that I took advantage of it, I’ve had a great time,” he said.
What also left a lasting impression, he added, was the professionalism and flexibility of the sailors and naval officers he met in Halifax, many of whom had served and deployed with different ships and units in recent years, undergone new training and challenges, and worked with multiple sets of colleagues and command teams.
“Their ability to adapt and move around, becoming part of new teams so quickly and building up teamwork and getting the communications right. That’s a big deal and for anyone who works in business; it’s something that can be very intimidating. Switching up a team every two to three years to relearn and retrain is incredibly difficult.”
The lone government official who took part in this excursion, Ontario MPP Han Dong, a member of that province’s governing Liberal party, left the program armed with some positive news to bring home after meeting with officials at Irving Shipbuilding and learning of the more than $100 million in spending commitments in Ontario related to the construction of Canada’s new AOPS and future Canadian Surface Combatant ships. He described it as ‘eye-opening’ to see the nearly-completed future HMCS Harry Dewolf outside of the Assembly Hall and to learn about the millions in Ontario-manufactured steel that was used, and the engine and propulsion equipment from Ontario-based GE Canada. He also encouraged Irving officials to brief the Ontario economic development ministry on the impact to their province.
“It’s incredible for me to realize that Canada has the capacity to build these monster ships, to see it up close for myself, and the extent of the economic impact across the country and in my province needs more attention,” he said.
These types of realizations, that left the tour guests excitedly chatting about Canada’s Navy and its future as the visit wrapped up, reflect the program working as it’s meant to, giving civilian leaders an exciting and educational three days that they won’t soon forget.
“I’m a big fan of this program, because we bring in people who are employers and big influencers in their communities, and I’m obviously biased here, but I think what we’re doing in the Navy is a pretty important job,” said HMCS Montreal CO Cdr Chris Sherban, who hosted the group for a day sail just hours before heading to Europe for the missile defence exercise FORMIDABLE SHIELD 17.
“To have the support of these leaders and to have them spreading the word about the good work our sailors are doing is invaluable.”