The concept of integrating the command structure of the three armed services had been proposed as early as the 1920s but only became a reality in 1964. Shortly after the Liberal party's narrow election victory of 8 April 1963, Prime Minister Lester Pearson launched a promised extensive defence policy review. While a special parliamentary committee conducted extended hearings, Minister of National Defence Paul Hellyer conducted his own study. In March 1964, he published a white paper on defence. The document was not particularly original except for a seemingly innocuous reference to the creation of a "single unified defence force." On 7 July 1964, the first stage of this process became law with the reorganization of the armed forces command structure. In a messy, chaotic process that took many months to come to fruition, navy, army, and air force headquarters, as well as hundreds of tri-service committees, disappeared. Next, the regional command structure was radically transformed. The army argued for a geographical structure, but the air force concept of a functional one prevailed (resulting, ironically, in most aircraft reverting to the command of navy or army generals). At the end of the process, the navy, now known as Maritime Command, absorbed all maritime aircraft as well as the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. The army, now Mobile Command, absorbed the ground support aircraft -- newly acquired CF-5 fighter and light transport -- squadrons along with the three Canadian-based army brigade groups. Air Transport Command, Training Command, Material Command, and Communications Command (created a bit later) completed the structure. The army and air force units serving under North Atlantic Treaty Organization command in Germany reported directly to Ottawa. North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, controlled the air defence squadrons through its regional headquarters in North Bay, Ontario.

In 1967, the Canadian minister of national defence, Paul Hellyer, introduced a bill for the reorganization and integration of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy, and Canadian Army into a single force. The House of Commons passed the Canadian Forces Reorganization Bill on 25 April 1967. The unification of the Canadian Armed Forces officially took effect on 1 February 1968.

Hellyer promoted unification as the logical conclusion to the process he had started with integration, but it has left a troubled legacy. Unification has certainly generated a great deal of criticism from both within and outside the armed forces. The air force and navy in particular lost a great deal as, for them, the identification of the serving member had always been to the service. The army regimental system went through normal transitions that would have happened anyway but was left intact. Much of the criticism of unification, however, is more properly directed at a separate issue, the amalgamation of National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) and Canadian Forces Headquarters (CFHQ) in the 1970s. This event led to a process of rank inflation. Civil servants now occupied positions previously held by military staff officers and vice versa. In order to balance anomalies in pay where a civil servant might be drawing a salary much higher than his or her military superior, rank structures were adjusted upwards. Many commentators also claim that the process resulted in the civilianization of the military ethos within NDHQ and, eventually, every level of the armed forces. One of the great ironies of Canadian military history is that Paul Hellyer was later instrumental in forming the Canadian Action Party, which advocated the separation of NDHQ from CFHQ. He has publicly defended unification while blaming this later reorganization for the criticisms aimed at unification.


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