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Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay looks on as Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson, left, takes questions after being announced as the next Chief of Defence Staff in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Aug. 27, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay looks on as Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson, left, takes questions after being announced as the next Chief of Defence Staff in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Aug. 27, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

New chief of defence staff Lt.-Gen. Lawson a champion of F-35 jets Add to ...

Lieutenant-General Thomas Lawson, Canada’s new top soldier, is a former fighter pilot and strong proponent of buying the controversial F-35 stealth jets.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay introduced Lt.-Gen. Lawson as the new chief of defence staff Monday in the foyer of the House of Commons. The minister told reporters that the government’s pick for the top job in the Canadian military had a “diverse and storied career,” including more than 30 years in the air force and time as a pilot “defending our skies and those of our allies.” Two of his sons are also members of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

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Lt.-Gen. Lawson was most recently the deputy commander of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defence Command, a position he held for only a year. He will take over the top post in the Canadian military from General Walt Natynczyk.

The government considers Lt.-Gen. Lawson a good communicator. In 2010, he was sent on a cross-country PR show to explain the purchase of the controversial F-35s.

This changing of the guard comes as the Canadian Forces copes with budget cuts, plans to purchase new plans and ships, and the task of readjusting to life without the high-profile combat mission in Afghanistan.

Heads of all services are normally considered for the top job, but the government chose Lt.-Gen. Lawson instead, despite his short tenure as a senior general.

“I look forward to working with my senior generals and admirals…on maintaining their capabilities and training and developing those capabilities in coming years, and most importantly, to address the concerns of our personnel,” Lt.-Gen. Lawson told reporters.

Asked if he would continue to champion the purchase of F-35 fighter planes, he said “the F-35 is a program that is hitting milestones and doing quite well. It will continue to contend for the replacement for the CF-18s.”

This spring, Canada’s auditor general, the top federal spending watchdog, said in a report that the Department of National Defence has gambled on the F-35s without running a fair competition, cost certainty, or any guarantee the plane could replace the current fleet of jets by the end of the decade. The auditor-general predicted the new stealth jets could cost $25-billion, though the Conservative government has disputed the price tag.

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