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Canada’s new top soldier could take over by end of October

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

Canada's new top soldier could take over as defence chief by the end of October, sources say.

Military planners are eyeing October 29 as the date to induct former fighter pilot Thomas Lawson, most recently the deputy commander of NORAD, as the next Chief of the Defence Staff on October 29.

The Prime Minister's Office could still move the date for this change of command ceremony if it chooses.

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Lieutenant-General Lawson will take over the top post in the Canadian military from General Walt Natynczyk, who has held the job for more than four years.

Lt.-Gen. Lawson will also be promoted to a full general on the same day as the change of command ceremony.

The veteran airman has a good relationship with the U.S. military and the Harper government considers him a solid communicator. In late 2010 he was sent on a cross-country PR road show to explain the controversial F-35 fighter jet acquisition to the public.

In keeping with an era of belt-tightening, the 2012 change-of-command ceremony is expected to be a lower-key affair than the military send-off that bade farewell to former chief of the defence staff General Rick Hillier.

In 2008, taxpayers shelled out nearly $270,000 for a pomp-and-circumstance-charged farewell to Mr. Hillier, including $6,600 so that he could ride off into retirement aboard a tank.

The last change-of-command ceremony also included a 21-gun salute ($4,035), aerial acrobatics by the Canadian Snowbirds team ($23,101), and jumps by the Skyhawks, a military parachutist team ($3,137) according to the Department of National Defence.

This 2012 changing of the guard comes at a critical time for the Canadian Forces, which are grappling with budget cuts, big purchase plans for new planes and ships, and the task of readjusting to life now that the high-profile combat mission in Afghanistan is fading in the rear-view mirror.

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While the Tories lack enthusiasm for peacekeeping assignments that leave troops mired in lengthy conflicts, they're looking for smart solutions to the defence of Canada's Arctic territory and borders, and they are open to limited overseas military interventions such as the Libya mission, provided their U.S. and U.K. allies are leading the way.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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