Wave of retirements leads to musical chairs among military top brass

For the fourth time in less than two years, the Canadian military is getting a new deputy commander following a major shakeup of the senior leadership on Friday.

Analyst says lack of a resolution in the Norman case is causing uncertainty in military

Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Mark Norman (left) speaks with Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd during a change of command ceremony, Thursday, June 23, 2016 in Ottawa. The RCMP has accused Norman of leaking cabinet secrets but he has not been charged. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

For the fourth time in less than two years, the Canadian military is getting a new deputy commander following a major shakeup of the senior leadership on Friday.

Lt.-Gen. Alain Parent, who has been acting as the vice chief of the defence staff for less than year, is set to soon take his retirement.

He has been subbing for Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, who was suspended from duty but not removed from his post in January 2017 after the RCMP accused him of leaking cabinet secrets.

That investigation is still ongoing. Parent was the second person to hold down the job temporarily since news of the Norman investigation broke over a year ago.

The current commander of the navy, Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, also held down the vice chief's job temporarily.

Military in limbo over Norman probe

The RCMP have yet to charge Norman, even though the case file was sent to prosecutors last summer. The lack of a resolution has left both the seasoned commander and the military in limbo.

A defence analyst said the uncertainty is hurting the institution.

"The VCDS job, the senior military financial planner, is too critical to give to a temp, however capable," said Dave Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

"If this government is serious about implementing their defence policy and seeing that document's spending plans come to fruition, they need to resolve Vice-Admiral Norman's situation so we can get stability back in the VCDS' office."

Chief of Defence staff General Jonathan Vance speaks during a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday, August 30, 2016. Vance has announced a shakeup in the leadership ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The annual list of promotions and retirements was released Friday by Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff — one of few familiar faces sticking around.

The announcement is significant because of the scope of the shakeup.

New leadership

With the exception of the navy, every military command will get new leadership.

The new acting vice chief of the defence staff, who is in charge of the day-to-day operation of the military, will be Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk, the current commander of the army.

He will be replaced by Maj.-Gen. Jean-Marc Lanthier.

Also retiring are: Lt.-Gen. Mike Hood, commander of the air force; Lt.-Gen. Marquis Haines, Canada's military representative at NATO; and the Canadian deputy commander of NORAD, Lt.-Gen. Pierre St-Amand.

The country's current military operations commander, Lt.-Gen. Steve Bowes, is being seconded to Veterans Affairs Canada. He will be replaced by the commander of special forces, Maj.-Gen. Mike Rouleau.

Rear admiral in charge of sexual misconduct file retiring

Of particular note: Rear Admiral Jennifer Bennett, who has been in charge of the military's effort to stamp out sexual misconduct in the ranks, will retire.

Also, Brig.-Gen. Jennie Carignan, the current chief of staff for army operations, will be promoted to commander of 2 Canadian Division in Montreal.

The shuffle comes at critical time for the military, as it begins to implement the nuts and bolts aspects of the Liberal government's defence policy.

It will be up to the new leadership to set down the plans to spend the money the federal government has earmarked for the military over the next two decades.

Those implementation plans — for equipment purchases and programs — are still being put together, according to a senior defence official who testified before the Senate finance committee this week.

Skepticism about government's spending plans

Asked to provide a list of the department's capital and program spending, Julie Charron, the defence department's deputy chief financial officer, said: "We are not in the position at this point to provide you with the information itemized by project, simply because there may be some delays in the projects."

The Liberals promised to inject an additional $14 billion into the military budget on an annual basis in the coming years.

They even went the extra step of earmarking it in the federal government's long-term financial plan, known as the fiscal framework — a measure that required both the prime minister and the finance minister to sign off.

There was virtually no mention of defence in this week's budget, prompting expressions of skepticism from defence analysts, including Sen. Elizabeth Marshall, the former auditor general of Newfoundland and Labrador.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.