Feds offer full-time work to all military reservists as part of COVID-19 response

OTTAWA — The federal government is planning to offer full-time employment to all reservists in the Canadian Armed Forces until the end of the summer as it seeks to bolster the military's ranks and help offset some of the economic damage from COVID-19.

Reservists across the country are being contacted to see if they are available and interested in the offer, which will see them receive regular pay and benefits while staying  on standby to respond should the military be asked to help with the current pandemic.

In a letter to military members and their families, chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said reservists will likely serve close to home — but that could change.

"I envision the Reserve Force serving initially within or close to their communities, but prepared to regroup rapidly should operations demand," he wrote in the letter, posted to Twitter on Friday.

Vance also said the ceremonial guard on Parliament Hill and at Rideau Hall will be cancelled this summer, and that the military is still reviewing options to see whether it will be possible to have sentries at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The show season for the Snowbirds and other demonstration teams might also be cancelled.

While planning is still underway, the Department of National Defence says many reservists who voluntarily agree to serve full-time will see their contracts begin as early as Sunday and continue through to the end of August.

Those who agree will receive the same pay and benefits as regular-force personnel for the next five months. Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier says they will be required "to remain at home, to stay healthy and ready" until assigned a specific mission or task.

Canada has about 25,000 reservists, most of whom serve one day per week and one weekend per month.  However, they are often asked to help with natural disasters and can represent 20 to 30 per cent of military personnel deployed on any given overseas mission.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said earlier this week that military commanders were preparing to mobilize up to 24,000 troops, including reservists and Canadian Ranger patrols, to help with COVID-19 or a natural disaster — or both at the same time, if required.

That is one of the largest peacetime mobilizations in Canadian history.

Quebec on Friday became the first province to formally request military assistance because of COVID-19. Military officials say they are now identifying the number of troops and the other resources that will be required to respond.

Retired lieutenant-general Guy Thibault, who previously served as the military's second-in-command and is now chair of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, applauded the decision to offer full-time employment to all reservists during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Many reservists are university students or have other part-time jobs that might have been affected by the pandemic, he said, so integrating them into the Forces at a time when they may need money and the military needs people makes sense.

"So as a way to really leverage the potential of a surge in a domestic crisis like this, it's a perfect opportunity given the shutdown of a lot of what's going on in society," said Thibault.

"It's a financial benefit for them and it's great for the Forces to expand the bench of available folks for whatever might yet come their way."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press