Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Selection of new defence chief making waves

A serving officer may not get job

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OTTAWA -- A behind-the-scenes battle over who will succeed the country's defence chief has spilled out in public and exposed the bitter, often conflicting visions of where the Canadian military is headed following the Afghan war.

Rumours have been rampant that the Harper government is willing to go outside the ranks of Canadian Forces brass in order to recall a trusted, retired officer to fill the shoes of Gen. Walter Natynczyk, whose departure is expected within weeks.

The name that cropped up the most was that of former lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, who headed the Canadian army until 2010 and penned a milestone report that recommended a radical overhaul of the military command structure.

Leslie, now a senior executive at the CGI Group, would not comment Tuesday. But a media report that claimed he'd been interviewed for the job was roundly denied by several well-placed sources 24 hours after it was published.

The other name in the mix is said to be retired air force lieutenant-general Angus Watt, now head of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

The overheated rumour mill is likely a symptom of infighting as Prime Minister Stephen Harper pushes ahead with planned National Defence reforms, said Douglas Bland, chair of defence management studies at Queens University

Leslie's vision of a leaner command structure and $1 billion in savings won rave reviews among the prime minister's staff and Conservative government officials, but earned a frosty reception within the senior establishment at National Defence.

The top-heavy military structure is a legacy of wartime reforms implemented by Natynczyk and his predecessor as defence chief, retired general Rick Hillier. The dismantling of the costly system began with last spring's deficit-slashing budget.

If Leslie or another retired officer is being considered, that would suggest Natynczyk's recent reforms did not go far enough to satisfy the PMO, Bland said.

In June, a selection committee of deputy ministers drew up a list, and a round of interviews followed. All the candidates under consideration at that point included serving officers, namely the current vice-chief of defence staff, Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson; the country's top officer at Norad, Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson; and the head of the Royal Canadian Navy, Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison.

Some in the military have lamented privately that by going outside, the PMO is slighting serving officers and undermining morale in the upper echelons of the Canadian Forces.

Bland said it would be unusual, but not unprecedented, to reach into the ranks of retired officers to fill the top slot. It happened in the 1950s and more recently in the 1990s when retired general John de Chastelain was recalled from his stint as Canada's ambassador in Washington after the scandal in Somalia.

In both cases, the government of the day had a specific agenda, not unlike Conservatives today, who are quietly desperate to remove the thorn that is National Defence after a series of political controversies and spending missteps, including the ongoing fiasco surrounding the F-35 stealth fighter.

Leslie's report a year ago called for cutting a bloated headquarters establishment in Ottawa comprised of 20,000 uniformed members and civil servants who manage operations and administration. He recommended cuts and reallocating resources in measures that could have affected up to 11,000 jobs.

The report also recommended cutting spending on myriad outside contractors and consultants.

Since the report, National Defence has implemented some changes, notably the restructuring and consolidation of three commands in June.

The merger was aimed at slicing about 25 per cent of the overhead for each command, although it's not clear how many staff jobs -- military or civilian -- will be cut. The steps fell short of what Leslie recommended.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2012 A7

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