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General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, takes questions in front of a screen showing Canada's support against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant at a technical briefing on Operation IMPACT in Ottaw

Justin Ta/The Canadian Pre

Canada's senior military commander will be stepping down in a matter of months – possibly by the summer – and a search for his replacement has been narrowed to four men, sources say.

As The Globe first reported Tuesday, General Tom Lawson is leaving after one term as Chief of the Defence Staff and a hunt is under way for his successor. Late Tuesday evening Gen. Lawson confirmed he's leaving but said he will remain at the helm until a successor is named.

The government has compiled a short list of generals and flag officers to replace Gen. Lawson and it includes:

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Lieutenant-General John Vance, Commander of Joint Operations Command, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy; Lieutenant-General Mike Day, Deputy Commander Allied Joint Force Command Naples and Marquis Hainse, Commander of the Canadian Army.

Gen. Lawson, who turns 58 this year, said he's ready to move on. "I have informed the Government that I would like to retire at the end of my three-year tenure as Chief of the Defence Staff," Gen. Lawson said.

"Serving Canada while leading the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces has been the greatest honour and privilege in my 40 years of service in uniform. There is much work to be done, and I remain focused on my duties as Chief of Defence. I will do so until a replacement is named."

This changing of the guard comes at a critical time for the Canadian Armed Forces, which are grappling with budget cuts, difficulties buying new equipment and far less clout in Ottawa compared with when the military was waging combat operations in Afghanistan.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney's office said only that it will announce Gen. Lawson's successor when he decides to leave.

"General Tom Lawson continues to serve the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces and we continue to have full confidence in him. When he chooses to move on, a successor will be announced," Lauren Armstrong, spokeswoman for Mr. Kenney said.

Gen. Lawson's three-year term technically extends to the fall but he could be gone within months, sources say. The government wants to appoint a new Chief of the Defence Staff before the federal election campaign, expected to begin this September.

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Lt.-Gen. Vance, a blunt-talking soldier who served as Canadian commander in Afghanistan, has gained an even higher public profile back home as the commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command who oversees most deployments at home and abroad.

He's been the lead public spokesman on Canada's aerial combat mission in Iraq and has deftly managed to avoid missteps in explaining the mission to Canadians.

Lt.-Gen. Vance's father, Jack Vance, served as vice-chief of the Defence Staff in the 1980s.

Vice-Admiral Norman drew headlines in December when he took the bold step of banning drinking at sea for sailors of the Royal Canadian Navy after a string of embarrassing incidents abroad where Canadian Armed Forces members got into trouble while drunk.

The top sailor also has experience managing the Canadian military when he served as assistant chief of the transformation process in 2005 that helped reshape the Forces.

Lt.-Gen. Day, who has previously commanded Canada's special forces, has plenty of operational experience in the field. He served as deputy commanding general of Canada's training mission in Afghanistan and in 2013 was appointed Chief of Force Development, which is strategic planning inside the military and would give him a good sense of resource allocation challenges. Known as a driven officer, he's currently with NATO's southern headquarters in Naples.

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Lt.-Gen. Hainse, who commands the Canadian Army, has a reputation as a personable leader. He's not a larger-than-life figure like former chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier or known for hugging soldiers like Walt Natynczyk but he's cultivated the support of his soldiers. In December, 2013, he threatened to take disciplinary action against troops who leak information to the media. "It is hurting the Army, it is counter-productive and it needs to stop," Lt.-Gen. Hainse wrote.

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