The Canadian officer system is organised as a long-career system with expectation of service to age 55 for most officers and to age 60 for officers in the medical, dental, and legal profession. The career is composed of three engagements:
- Short engagement through 9 years of service with about 95% passing beyond;
- Intermediate engagement through 20 years of service with majors passing beyond and captains requiring exceptions; and
- Indefinite engagement through age 55.
Retirement of lieutenant colonels and below requires at least 28 years of service, while colonels and above must stay at least 30 years to retire.
Those officers departing voluntarily or selected for separation at the end of the short engagement receive no pension.
Officers eliminated at the end of the intermediate engagement (not a large percentage) receive a pension of 40% of their pay, including allowances.
At age 55, pensions equate to 75% of total pay. Most Canadian officers expect to initiate second careers after retirement at age 55.
The professional specialties enter the military directly or laterally from the civilian society at any age and usually begin at the rank of captain with service allowed up to age 60 with similar early retirement provisions by grade as other military officers. Professional specialty officers receive special pay, at higher salaries than other officers, to compensate, attract, and retain them. All dentists are by tradition in the Army; whereas, the other professional specialties have officers in each service. The professional specialty officers serve interchangeably in all three services (e.g., it is not unusual to have Army doctors on Navy ships).
There is no lateral entry for officers outside of the professional specialties. Officer tours are usually four years with provisions for both longer and shorter. Command tours are limited to two years. Command is not a gate for promotion because of the small numbers of command opportunities, but there seems to be a positive correlation between command and subsequent promotion. Promotion
- Competitive selection; and
- A vacancy at a higher grade.
Officer positions are controlled by skills through a minimum manning level (MML). However, there are a number of officer positions, called generalist positions, that are not skill specific. The total of the MML, skill-specific positions and these added generalist positions, which are independent of skill, make up a requirement called the preferred manning level (PML).
Promotion at lower ranks through major is by career management field, groups of skills, or in some cases, individual skill and vacancies are limited by the MML . After major, promotions are competitive across all career management fields and skills and limited to vacancies by the PML.
While the Canadian military is a total force concept establishment, reserve officers are brought on active service only for designated shortage billets and with limited tenure. Reserve officers are not converted to career status.