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Politics The search for a new top soldier should start immediately, Conservatives say

Lieutenant-General Paul Wynnyk, seen here on Parliament Hill in July, 2016, abruptly stepped down, citing aborted plans to replace him with Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The search for a new top soldier in Ottawa should begin immediately given the turmoil in upper echelons of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Official Opposition says.

This week, Lieutenant-General Paul Wynnyk, the second-in-command of the Canadian military, abruptly stepped down, citing aborted plans to replace him with Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the military officer who had been the subject of an abandoned prosecution for leaking secrets.

Lt.-Gen. Wynnyk has been vice-chief of the defence staff for less than one year, serving top soldier General Jonathan Vance, who is chief of the defence staff.

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What’s particularly notable is that Lt.-Gen. Wynnyk is the fifth vice-chief of the defence staff to serve under Gen. Vance – an unusual amount of turnover for such a key position. Two of these chiefs were “acting” rather than permanent appointees.

Gen. Vance, who has served as chief of the defence staff since July of 2015, was appointed by the Harper government.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said Gen. Vance needs to be replaced. But he said the Liberals should not pick his successor because the country is too close to an election now. A federal election is slated for October with a campaign expected to begin in mid-September.

“We could be looking at new government in October. I definitely don’t want to see [Defence] Minister [Harjit] Sajjan, in the dying days of this term of office, picking the next CDS.”

The Globe and Mail asked the Prime Minister’s Office whether Justin Trudeau still has confidence in Gen. Vance. Cameron Ahmad, director of communications in the PMO, replied: “Yes, he does.” The PMO referred the question to the defence minister’s office for further comment.

“I continue to have confidence in the chief of the defence staff. General Vance is an integral part of the defence team and I have faith in him and his team as we implement our ambitious Defence Policy: Strong, Secure, Engaged,” Mr. Sajjan said in a statement that also referenced the Liberal blueprint for the Canadian Forces.

Mr. Sajjan said he, as well as the deputy Minister of National Defence, Gen. Vance and “the entire defence team” remain focused on supporting Canadian Forces members at home and abroad.

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In a letter sent to Gen. Vance, and leaked on Tuesday, Lt.-Gen. Wynnyk said he had delayed his retirement to serve in the No. 2 spot in the military until 2020. But when charges against Vice-Adm. Norman were dropped this spring, Gen. Vance asked him to step aside so Vice-Adm. Norman could return to that post.

Vice-Adm. Norman eventually decided to retire, Lt.-Gen. Wynnyk noted in the letter, but despite the “change of heart” the lieutenant-general decided to retire as well. The Globe confirmed the contents of the letter, first reported by Global News, with a Defence Department source, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Mr. Bezan blamed disarray in the military on the Liberals, citing the fact that the RCMP investigation that led to a criminal charge against Vice-Adm. Norman was set in motion by Mr. Trudeau, who was furious at the leak of classified cabinet deliberations involving a $668-million naval supply ship contract, as The Globe has reported. This led to an RCMP investigation of Vice-Adm. Norman – the decision to refer the matter to Mounties was made by the Privy Council Clerk, the PMO has said – and his subsequent removal from his second-in-command position.

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