Canada's next top soldier

Whether or not Peter MacKay is shuffled, we know that the Chief of Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk will be retiring in a few days’ time. General Natynczyk has held the position since the controversial General Rick Hillier retired in 2008.

Natynczyk’s retirement party will apparently be a bit more modest than Hillier’s extravagant farewell ceremony (David Pugliese, “Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk And the Long Goodbye,” Defence Watch Blog (Ottawa Citizen), 29 June 2012):

The latest that Defence Watch has heard about that retirement date is July 12 or 13 (surely not the 13th which is a Friday). Natynczyk has already had a little party to say goodbye to his staff who have served him over the years.

And what will the change of command ceremony be like? Maybe a little more subdued than the last one. As you’ll recall the former CDS Gen. Rick Hillier retired on July 1, 2008, riding into the sunset in a Leopard tank (the same kind that he once disparaged as “millstones” around the neck of Canada’s military).

That farewell cost taxpayers $270,000. Hillier later said that the event was not a farewell party for him and he considered it a recruiting event. The Canadian Forces said the ceremony was about more than just honouring Hillier and his replacement, Natynczyk; it was also dedicated to the spouses and families of wounded and dead soldiers, according to news reports at the time.

Natynczyk’s successor has not been announced yet, but both of the leading candidates for the job, Vice Admiral Bruce Donaldson and Vice Admiral Paul Maddison, come with their own baggage.

Vice Admiral Donaldson, the military’s second in command, had the awkward job of freezing benefits for overseas soldiers after it was discovered that tens of millions of dollars were paid without proper authorization for five years (Daniel Leblanc, “Government freezes illegal payments to soldiers posted abroad,” Globe and Mail, 11 February 2011):

Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, said the temporary freeze will affect up to 7,000 Canadian Forces members, who will have to wait for an unspecified period of time to regain access to a series of monthly reimbursements.

At a hastily called news conference, the department explained that it had obtained specific government authorizations for certain types of benefits to Canadian Forces members. However, the department had then tried to offer new benefits under these same authorizations, only to discover that it couldn’t.

“It’s been a busy few years, the Canadian Forces are in a period of surge,” Vice-Adm. Donaldson said. “In some cases … we didn’t do our homework.”

The freeze has no impact on members’ salaries. Still, it affects payments that are now offered to Canadian Forces members who are serving in dangerous parts of the world or who are posted to bases away from their families.

Vice Admiral Paul Maddison, head of the Navy, inherited dud submarines and was supposed to be the one to turn the project around, without much success (Murray Brewster, “Canada’s stuck with second-hand subs until 2030, navy says,” Globe and Mail, 27 February 2012):

Canada’s glitch-prone, second-hand submarines will be with the navy until at least 2030, but defence planners will begin drawing up a replacement program within the next four years.

Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, head of the Royal Canadian Navy, told a Senate committee Monday that losing the capability of underwater surveillance and attack would be a “dire day for Canada.”

The military has felt tremendous pressure since the CBC broadcast photos of a damaged HMCS Corner Brook, which smacked into the Pacific Ocean bottom last June. The images raised questions for the operational future of the boat, which Adm. Maddison says was never in question.

Yet, technical hurdles converting British systems and a fatal fire aboard one boat have meant that the country currently has no combat-ready submarines, almost 15 years after they were purchased.

Photo credit: DND

Tags: Canada's submarines, Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, General Rick Hillier, Rick Hillier, Vice Admiral Bruce Donaldson, Vice Admiral Paul Maddison, Walter Natynczyk