With about six months left to go in his job as commander of CFB Esquimalt, navy Capt. Craig Baines is focused on checking off a number of items on his to-do list.
“We kind of joke with the other municipalities that we’re the 14th municipality in a sense and I think it’s a good metaphor to say that I’m the mayor of that municipality,” he says. “My responsibilities are very similar, actually.”
Base commanders typically serve for two years, before being assigned to another position elsewhere. Baines hasn’t received his official message yet, telling him when or where his next challenge will be.
The 44-year-old Esquimalt resident heads over to the large desk in his office and taps at his keyboard to access the schedule on his computer.
Baines divides his time between meeting with mayors, base union officials and external organizations such as the United Way of Greater Victoria and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, among others.
In addition to being in charge of base security – the base was the final destination of the migrant ship MV Sun Sea that arrived carrying hundreds of Tamils in 2010 – and being the ultimate authority in employee disciplinary action, he also regularly meets with a team of officers who lead different departments at the base.
With their input, Baines prioritizes where 1,000 civilian employees are best employed, and how best to spend the base’s $130-million annual budget. He also leads 1,500 military members.
“We’ve been grappling with managing our workforce to the appropriate levels,” he says, adding that though a lot of strategic change is coming, no announcement has been made.
Until then, one of Baines’ priorities is to “live within our means,” despite the challenge that involves, as well as ensuring the well-being of the 1,000 civilians and 1,500 military members – not counting fleet personnel – under his command.
With them in mind, the commander hopes to sign a contract in January for a coffee company to set up shop at Nelles Block in April, where many junior non-commissioned members live.
The creation of a gathering place, which the coffee drinker says he plans to visit daily, is meant to improve quality of life for those working on the Naden side of the base. There is already a canteen at dockyard.
“It’s a meeting place,” Baines says.
His team is also putting the finishing touches on a new online hub, a groundbreaking website believed to be the first of its kind for the Canadian Forces.
The internal communications portal will allow civilian employees and military personnel to post their ideas and feedback on issues and changes at the base.
The website, called “Our Base,” is set to launch the first week of January, and will feature the base commander’s blog, a comic, new initiatives spawned from members’ ideas, a link to the base newspaper and videos, among other features.
Baines is looking forward to reading comments, which can be immediately posted with a name or vetted and eventually posted if sent anonymously.
“A lot of times the people who are actually doing the work have great ideas on how to do that work better,” Baines says. “But because we are in a hierarchical system, it is sometimes difficult for them to get those ideas to the decision makers.”
One of his objectives since his term began in 2010 has been to create a climate in which those ideas are encouraged and put into practice.
“Most of the time we communicate to people,” Baines says. “What we want to do is communicate with people. When you have 2,500 people working for you it’s hard to do that.”
The web portal will allow the commander to explain decisions, such as why staffing positions may be filled in certain units over others, for example.
“Not all those decisions will be supported, not all those decisions will make people happy,” Baines says. “But my belief is if you can provide people with context and let them understand the ‘why’ behind this stuff, it’s much better than trying to impose change without explaining it.”
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