What is the Canadian Nation Leadership Project

The Canadian National Leadership Program (CNLP) is hands-on leadership training for university and college students.  It holds the potential to be the most important nation-building venture in Canada since the 1960s.

The CNLP targets participants’ values and aspirations, enhances their sense of citizenship, and builds the can-do attitudes and leadership competencies that universities and corporations have long wanted for graduates. The cumulative impact of thousands of young people with such attributes entering the workforce every year will transform the country.

Main Elements

students5Participants are full-time undergraduates working towards degrees in their chosen subject, who join local Reserve units as officer-cadets to learn leadership skills part-time during the academic year and for two months in the summer.

The program combines on-campus instruction tailored to the academic requirements of individual universities and colleges, with the experiential learning methods common to officer development programs in the Canadian, British, Australian, and US forces.  At some institutions, students may be required to enroll in prescribed courses and may receive academic credit or certificates for successfully completing the program.  Students may also earn an officer’s commission in the Canadian Forces, though there is no obligation to join on graduation. Participants are paid for attending training at Reserve officer pay rates, which helps to offset the cost of university tuition.

A Nationwide Program

students-ottawa4The goal of the Canadian National Leadership Program is to have a nationwide program in place by 2017, i.e. the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Canada had such a program until 1968, with 27 universities and 5000 students enrolled. Canada today has 98 universities and 130 community colleges with 1.7 million enrolled.

The Breakout Educational Network has been the catalyst of the CNLP initiative. To date, Breakout has raised over $5 million for the program, relying entirely on the donations of individuals and foundations. It will need to raise in the order of $3 million over the next three years to achieve its 2017 target.

Structure and Content

Participation in the Canadian National Leadership Program is open to full-time students enrolled in regular university or college courses, studying subjects of their choice. Those who wish to participate in the program must meet the basic fitness requirements of the Canadian Forces and join the Reserves as part-time officer-cadets.  As half of today’s students take part in at least one co-op, practicum or field placement during their undergraduate years, the CNLP can be an appealing option for acquiring practical workplace skills and enhancing employability.

The classroom component of the program will vary among the participating institutions, in accord with their respective institutional goals and pedagogical preferences. In some cases, universities and colleges will make no special provision for a student to take academic courses specifically related to leadership, leaving the choice to the individual. In other cases, students might be encouraged to enrol in leadership-related courses to earn certification or credits towards a degree.

ncfymThe learning-by-experience component of the CNLP is modelled on the university officer training programs which used to exist in Canada until 1968.  Our documentary film, No Country for Young Men, is about these programs. Our film For Queen & Country features the British Army’s University Officer Training Corps (UOTC) at Cambridge University today.  As a junior cadet, the student learns to get organized, present well, be fit and resilient, communicate clearly, learn basic military techniques and field craft, and become a good team member. With the self-confidence and skills acquired, the student learns to be a team leader, to manage people and operations, to plan group activities, to ensure the welfare of team members, and to achieve results.

During the academic year, students spend approximately one evening a week and one weekend per month with Reserve formations or units in their districts, under the direction of officers and non-commissioned officers who function as instructors, administrators and support staff. Depending on the location, these could be a combination of Regular or Reserve personnel or discharged veterans. During the summer, students train for two months at major CF bases with officer-cadets from across Canada.

Students receive Reserve officer pay for attending training, which helps to offset the cost of tuition. They are under no obligation to join the regular forces on graduation.

The CNLP requires a two-year commitment. Individuals who successfully complete the program and wish to continue to participate may be invited to remain for a third year as a mentor and instructor for new participants.

Origins and Scope

The origins of the Canadian National Leadership Program are to be found in three university-based military training programs which existed in Canada from 1914 to 1968: the Canadian Officer Training Corps (COTC), the University Naval Training Division (UNTD), and the University Reserve Training Program (URTP).  At their peak, there were some 5000 students enrolled at 27 universities.


Similar programs continue to thrive in Britain, Australia, and the United States. In the US, the program is back at Ivy League campuses after having been banned from places like Harvard, Yale and Columbia during the Vietnam era. (Our film Bridging the Gap: The Civilian-Military Divide.)

Seven years ago, the Breakout Educational Network began work on a project to rebuild civilian-military relations in Canada, exploring the reasons behind “the dark decade” of the 1990s (our five-part film series A Question of Honour) and the success some communities were having in developing institutional ties with local military units through Garrison Community Councils. We concluded that a contemporary version of the earlier university training programs could have beneficial effects for Canadian society far beyond bridging the gap between the civilian and military worlds. The breakthrough came in 2013 when the University of Alberta volunteered to conduct a pilot project.

There are 98 universities in Canada with over 800,000 full-time students, and another 130 community colleges on 900 campuses with 900,000 full-time students.  Getting any appreciable proportion of these institutions to host a CNLP program on campus would mean many thousands of young people with strong leadership skills entering the Canadian workforce every year – a nation-building phenomenon.  Our goal is a nationwide CNLP program in place within three years i.e. by 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Current Status

What we have achieved so far

  • The Government of Canada has formally endorsed the program.
  • Parliamentarians of all parties have expressed their support, including the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.
  • More than two dozen universities and colleges (to date) have expressed an interest in joining the program.
  • A pilot project has been launched at the University of Alberta, with others in the planning stage. The Canadian Army has undertaken to provide trainers and facilities.

In October 2015, the Chief of the Defence Staff directed that the program should be expanded to all five regions of Canada (British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada). The commanders of the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy have been instructed to ensure programs are launched by September 2017.

expanding the vision




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