• Thanks for stopping by. Logging in to a registered account will remove all generic ads. Please reach out with any questions or concerns.



Army.ca Fixture
Reaction score
In 1989 shortly after being appointed to the position, Deputy Minister of National Defence Robert Ramsey Fowler decided that his offices in the NDHQ (National Defence Head Quarters) building complex in Ottawa were not appropriate for a senior government official of his rank and stature. Between November1989 and April 1994 major modifications were done to the suite of offices increasing their size from 1,800 square feet to 3,140.

The cost for this was budgeted at $160,000.00 (all prices in Canadian Dollars) but actually came in at an estimated $327,000.00. This did not include an additional $50,000 for new furnishings and $5,000 for new office furniture for the ten assistants assigned to the suite of offices.

The new Deputy Minister also decided that the artwork on the walls, mostly original painting and prints depicting events in Canadian military history was not to his taste and inappropriate for defence head quarters. It was replaced with leased works of "modern art" at a cost of between $2,500-3,000.00 per year.

To put this in some context, at the same time the renovations were being completed in 1994 the Canadian peace keeping contingent in the former Yugoslavia was being rotated home. The outgoing soldiers having completed their 6 months tour were greeting the incoming contingent. As the homeward bound soldiers met their comrades they handed them their Kevlar helmets. There were not enough helmets to outfit both contingents. The incoming soldiers were then left to sort out the right sizes when they had the chance.

The cost to purchase an additional 1,000 helmets and thereby avoid this twice-annual farce was $500,000.00 or $500.00 per helmet. The troops were told that due to budget constraints that there were no funds available to purchase the extra helmets and to make do.

Tarnished Brass, Crime and Corruption in the Canadian Military by Scott Taylor and Brian Nolan published in 1996 is the latest in a series of books describing what is wrong with the Canadian Forces.

During the Trudeau era there was a steady stream of books published, many by former military members describing the ongoing emasculation of the military by the socialist Prime Minister and his cabal of politicians and successors, some were best sellers others quickly floundered in literary obscurity.

The difference between them and this book is Taylor and Nolan identifies a different culprit. It is not just an indifferent public and insensitive government that has crippled Canadian military capability. No the enemy is in fact the very leaders of the military establishment, military and civilian who are responsible for the almost criminal neglect and mismanagement of the past few decades.

Both authors are well versed in their knowledge of Canadian military affairs. Nolan has four prior books on Canada’s not insubstantial contribution to the Second World War to his credit. Former Infantry soldier Taylor is best known as the founder publisher and editor of Esprit de Corps Magazine.

Initially this magazine was well received by the authorities in Ottawa, but after it began to gleefully expose the various peccadillos of the uniformed and civilian mandarins at NDHQ, Taylor soon became public enemy number one there. Much of the contents of Tarnished Brass in fact first came to light in Esprit de Corps as Taylor points out. Much of it initially arrived on his desk in unmarked brown envelopes by a growing number of lower ranking whistle blowers.

Scott Taylor is not well liked by the majority of the senior officers of the Canadian Forces. A fact he seems to take an almost perverse pride in. Surprisingly though the rank and file also do not universally likes him either, the very people he claims in Esprit de Corps to go to bat for. There is some suggestion that it‘s a simple case of "airing dirty laundry in public" by professional military personal. Others see him as a publicity-seeking muckraker.

Most likely though, it has more to do with the fact that Taylor has become somewhat of a media darling in Canada. His exposures of corruption and incompetence and his reporting on foreign wars from Kosovo to Iraq have made him a defacto military expert and frequent "talking head" on Canadian news. There are some that feel that the media makes too much of the opinion of someone who served only three years and never rose above the rank of Private Soldier.

Whatever detractors Taylor may have, he and Nolan score a bull’s-eye with this book. Tarnished Brass is a scathing expose of the reign of Robert Fowler better known as "Teflon Bob." From 1989 until 1995 when he was removed in the aftermath of the Somalia scandal, Fowler literally ran the Department of National Defence as his personal fiefdom. He outlasted three Prime Ministers, six Defence Ministers and a score of General officers who served, or not, at his whim.

His arrogance and excesses are legend. His accountability, or lack of, equally so and both are well documented here. In addition to the extensive and excessive renovation already noted, Teflon Bob decided that because Generals had staff cars and drivers he should too. A leased limo with a driver was placed at his disposal 24 hours a day. The career civil servant employee with overtime factored in cost the taxpayers just a bit more than the private soldier assigned to ferry a General or Admiral around would, only a mere $60,000.00 a year.

When Fowler was finally "demoted" to a UN post in New York he continued his extravagant taxpayer funded life style. He‘d barely unpacked in his new office before submitting a steady stream of expenses, including $70.00 for a frame to display the letter that officially stated his new job, his "demotion."

Under Fowlers watch and with him to set the example, the civilian and military heads of DND had a field day with the public purse. Some of the more notorious examples Taylor and Nolan document include the Air Force General who had a CF-18 fighter that he used as a personal taxi to jet about the country at $7,000.00 an hour operating costs. What made that one worse was that there were no CF-18s at the base he was located at. One had to be ferried in whenever he decided he wanted to go joy riding.

Then there’s the Admiral who spent six days visiting the Canadian contingent in Somalia in 1983. Of the six days though it appears four were spent at a luxury resort in nearby Kenya at a cost of $5,500.00. It turns out he actually spent a total of twenty-three hours in Somalia with the troops on a photo op. Mind this Admiral also managed to find it essential to visit Kuala Lampur (Malaysia) Bangkok (Thailand) and Tokyo (Japan) in the same year at the Government’s expense.

Working on this example of leadership, the overall Commander of the Canadians in Somalia arranged to have such a bloated HQ staff that the operational budget for the mission had to be cut somewhere. The cut was to do away with the cooks, and regular fresh rations, for the battalion of troops deployed in the actual field on operations.

The worst documented excess though appears to have been the annual "Eagle River" annual conferences with visiting US Generals. These were in fact fully funded hunting and fishing trips in Labrador staffed by serving military personal, cooks, stewards and pilots. The pilots were needed for the use of military helicopters to fly out the catch and fly in the food and booze. The Generals involved were of course required to pay back the US Generals for their annual fishing and golf trips, excuse me conferences in Florida.

There are literally dozens of other examples, many of them petty little abuses of power including falsifying expense accounts and actual theft of public funds. This from individuals, who aside from the fact that they command thousands of soldiers and sailors also command six figure salaries.

None were really punished even those caught. Some even received their performance bonuses. At the same time stories of soldiers and sailors moonlighting as pizza delivery and taxi drivers to make ends meet, and military families using food banks were showing up in Canadian papers all too frequently.

The senior ranking General in the Canadian Forces was no exception to these activities. General John De Chastelain is shown to have lived a rather flamboyant lifestyle in his tenure as Chief of Defence Staff at the public‘s expense prior to his retirement and appointment as Canada‘s ambassador to the US. Surprisingly he is then called back from retirement for an unprecedented second tour as CDS where he continues with his less than spendthrift ways and creative bookkeeping.

The reason that De Chastelain is called back as CDS was due to the abrupt departure of his predecessor General Jean Boyle. Boyle may not have been as creative with his accounting techniques as some of his fellow Generals, but his shortcomings were much worse. Boyle as is documented here was a petty, shallow, and weak man who appears to have been absent the day they taught accountability and leadership at military college.

He is appointed as CDS by Fowler his patron as a reward for his part in trying to cover up the Somalia scandal. Later when implicated in the same scandal by a Royal Commission, the Canadian public is treated to the public spectacle of the highest-ranking military person in the country blaming his subordinates and trying to deflect blame from himself against overwhelming evidence. He also orders the entire military, not one unit or base, but everyone in the country, to cease work for a day to look in their filing cabinets for "missing" documents from Somalia.

Taylor and Nolan do note that not every General or Admiral in the Canadian military is incompetent, corrupt, and/or self-serving. They do list a couple of the professional and respected ones. The problem appears to be the sheer numbers of serving Generals and Admirals. At the time the book was written the entire Canadian Forces had 68,800 uniformed personnel (29,142 Army, 17,181 Navy, and 24,364 Air force) plus an optimistic 30,000 reservists.

Some 176 assorted Generals and Admirals command this rather small force (16 Lt. Generals, 48 Major Generals and 112 Brigadier Generals or their Naval equivalents). To put this in perspective that is more than double the number of serving Generals and Admirals in Canadian uniform at the end of the Second World War.

At wars end in 1945 Canada had over 600,000 men and woman in uniform. The Army had 5 Divisions in Europe and three more at home. The Royal Canadian Air force was the fourth largest in the world and the Royal Canadian Navy had grown from 11 ships in 1939 to over 400 by 1945.

The Army at the time this book was published could field a Division of troops, barely. The Navy had 16 surface warships, a couple of submarines, two supply vessels and a handful of smaller craft. A couple of ships were permanently docked due to a shortage of crews. The Air force was in a similar situation with planes in storage because the crews and funds to maintain or operate them were not available.

With this surplus of senior officers, most with nothing really to do, it was no wonder that a cult of self-serving nepotism soon developed.

Those 68,800-uniformed members are not all of the Defence Department’s employees though. In fact they constitute barely two thirds of the total. A further 28,927 civilian employees are also on the Government DND payroll. Over 12,000 of these work in NDHQ in Ottawa and include more than their fair share of “Civilian Generals” who weld as much authority, and draw as big or bigger a pay cheque as their uniformed counterparts.

In one example of abuse of both power and public purse, one high-ranking bureaucrat decided that the first Gulf War stressed out her staff. The conflict they served dutifully in from their air-conditioned offices in Ottawa. To relieve this they were all sent on a retreat complete with a California guru, chanting, and bongo drums. Cost to the taxpayer, $86,000 plus employee salaries of course.

The new, modern, and expensive NDHQ building was built with state of the art secure conference rooms. Despite this and despite the fact that all those who should attend such meetings had offices in these very buildings, they were infrequently used. Instead weekend get away conferences at out of town resort hotels became the norm for operational reasons.”

With everyone lined up at the trough it’s amazing that there was any money left over to buy equipment for the military. Canada’s shortcomings in this realm are course regularly well documented usually by their NATO partners. Nolan and Taylor offer more than one example of patronage and back room dealing in the procurement or not of various items.

The infamous cancelled helicopter deal is of course covered. The Liberal Government refusing to replace aged maritime helicopters because no matter how many times the criteria is changed the one that they cancelled in the first place keeps coming up as the best replacement.

In the interim pilots are forced to continue flying their ancient Sea Kings that require 40 hours of maintenance for every hour flown. Coincidentally that number 40 is also how many years old the helicopters are.

Some helicopters are purchased though, over 100 from a company with ties to the Government. The fact that they can’t carry a full load of troops with their winter equipment, a not uncommon need in Canada, is of course irrelevant.

Replacement trucks for the army are submitted to test after test that they continually fail even though the standards are lowered again and again. The prime consideration is not their suitability as off road tactical transports, the Italian firm that designed them uses them for airport maintenance, but the political riding in which the factory that will make them is located.

To bail out an airline the Canadian Forces is conned into buying several Airbus passenger jets even though it really needs tactical and strategic transports. Mind the Airbus does come in handy. One is despatched on a shopping junket to Hawaii in 1995.

Officially the plane, capable of carrying 160 people, was being sent to New Zealand to transport ten military personal and their families there and bring back ten more whose overseas duty was finished. Rather that just buy ten tickets on a commercial airline it was decided to give the new aircraft’s crew “experience” in flying long distances over water.

Rather than let the extra seats go to waste, 150 assorted senior military and civilian DND employees and their spouses jumped aboard, at least as far as the refuelling stop in Honolulu. They then waited there for the plane to come back on its return leg, finding something to keep them busy for a couple of days.

A similar expedition to Australia the same year was cancelled when someone tipped off the press about the extra passengers on the plane being sent to an Australian air show.

Not only new equipment, but also equally lucrative contracts for repairs and maintenance of everything from jet fighters to ships was handled and assigned by various uniformed and civilian mandarins. The fact that these same Generals and Admirals would soon be starting high paying second careers with these same defence industry firms upon honourable retirement from the military of course never affected who was awarded what.

Even it seems when they got it right they didn’t. In 1990 1.8 Billion dollars was spent to upgrade the Army’s communications systems. The main part of this was for the purchase of 10,000 new state of the art tactical radios. Bear in mind of course the army only had 20,000 soldiers of whom about 8,000 could be considered front line (infantry, armour, artillery) ones. Mind that’s still an impressive ration of radios to soldiers. It might have been easier, and cheaper to buy them all cell phones and calling cards.

Surprisingly most of this was kept secret both from the Canadian public at large and the lower rank and file. There were more than a few attempts at exposing it. One whistle blowing civilian employee according to the authors committed suicide under mysterious circumstances, the whole affair being quickly and conveniently covered up.

Those in charge enjoyed their perks and would go to any means to preserve them. Considering that they actually commanded the agencies responsible for any investigations, such as the Military Police and could also by virtue of their rank and positions bully or intimidate those below them this wasn’t too hard to achieve.

By the time of the Somali incident and the resulting bungled cover up and exposure by Royal Commission though things began to come to light in a very public and ****ing process. Fowler was removed and demoted, although from his actions one wouldn’t think that he saw it that way. De Chastelain was shuttled off to Washington only to be returned to Ottawa when his successor made a public spectacle of himself on nation wide TV.

No one though it seemed took a broom to NDHQ and cleaned out the whole corrupt, greedy, manipulative self-serving corrupt system. It sacrificed a few of its more disposable members on the altar of public opinion and then went back to business as usual.

Taylor and Nolan’s book is well written, full of what appears to be well researched factual information, and in the long run disturbing. The fact that those in such a position of trust and responsibility could almost universally abdicate it and so easily does not bode well for the institution they purport to serve and the nation as a whole. That the population at large were so disinterested and apathetic to the whole mess even when it was exposed is also cause for concern.

The Canadian military has a long and proud tradition. When called upon it has fought at home, and on foreign shores or in the air or seas. In its time it has battled and vanquished Germans, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Chinese, Boer, Al-Queda, and even invading Kentucky riflemen. However no military can defeat an opposition that is at the same time it’s own command element.

In a recent editorial in Esprit de Corps Magazine, Taylor recounted an encounter he had at a European airport with a senior officer in the Canadian Forces. Said officer lambasted the former private soldier over that “****ed book.” He complained that ever since it came out, he and other senior officers had lost respect in the eyes of the troops. The guy just didn’t get it.
Ok once again, this review was mainly written for a US based web site that I contribute book and movie reviews to (in additon to travel pieces). Writing is part of how I make my living after all. However it was posted here at the same time as there(ok 5 minutes later). That explains the overtly long explanations of certain things that to regulars at army.ca may seem obvious.

Once again this is a review of the book, and the author‘s opinions and ideas. That said and done a lot of what they say here I agree with.
Well written...I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! I knew things were bad...but NO ONE ever thought they were that bad...
...I suppose that the book was covered up too?
I think that the Liberal Party is just one big mistake...?!
You‘ve got to look out for number one and never trust anyone over Cpl. Sad but true.
I know this topic is old, but I figured it contained a lot of good information, and I'd like to keep things together.

I just picked up Tarnished Brass from the RMC library, looking to do an essay on Somalia for politics. Now obviously this is a touchy subject, especially around here as I know at least one of the Majors teaching the other history section was in Somalia.
So far I've gotten through the first few chapters of the book, where Gen. de Chastelain and Fowler are basically torn apart. I'm just wondering if there are any defenses to this book? Does anyone know if Gen. de Chastelain or Fowler ever came out to try and justify all of the expenditures?
Also.. kind of funny how Veritas, the RMC club magazine, just did a whole front page article on Gen. de Chastelain and how great he's doing with the Irish peace process and all...

As  a personal comment on the book, I had heard that things had gotten bad, but I never knew just how bad it was. This kind of stuff should be required reading, in the spirit of remembering the past so as not to make the same mistakes again.
Excellent review as I happen to have an autographed copy of this book. Far better than any of his others. Partly, I suppose due to the editing and research help given to them by a well known Canadian journalist. As to some of their sourcing a review in the Journal of Conflict Studies illuminates an interesting point,  "For example, Taylor and Nolan frequently use the National Defence Headquarters phone book to illustrate their points. Once was cute, twice was satisfactory, but five or six times made the reader wonder whether the phone book was their primary source of research!"  Has the brass learned ? I think not as every so often another indiscretion surfaces in one of our daily newspapers.

Review Essay, Crisis in the Canadian Military

Like the title says, seen it on sale, decided to pick it up. Haven't read it yet, looks good though.

Tarnished Brass, Crime and Corruption in the Canadian Military, by Scott Taylor and Brian Nolan.

Any thoughts?