OTTAWA — Time is running out for the federal Liberal government to name a new commander of the Canadian Armed Forces before it faces a confidence vote, with some observers worrying a delay could leave the military in limbo in the event of an election.
Yet exactly who will be selected to succeed Gen. Jonathan Vance as chief of the defence staff remains a mystery because while there may be one seemingly obvious choice, there are others who might suit the Liberals better.
“There’s a generalized understanding that any of the individuals who have made it to three stars have demonstrated a pretty strong portfolio in terms of competencies and strengths,” said Canadian Forces College professor Alan Okros.
“It then becomes an issue about where does the priority fall?”
The Liberal government has quietly indicated it wants to announce the new chief of defence staff before the speech from the throne on Sept. 23. Sources at the Department of National Defence, who are not authorized to discuss the search publicly, said interviews were conducted this past week
Retired lieutenant-general Guy Thibault, who previously served as vice-chief of the defence staff, is one of those hoping for an announcement before a possible election.
“You just don’t want to have a chief in waiting with a chief caretaker in place,” said Thibault, who now heads the Conference of Defence Associations Institute.
The seemingly obvious choice is Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau.
The former Ottawa police officer who re-enrolled in the Forces after 9/11 spent years in the field before becoming commander of Canada’s special forces in 2014, at a time when the elite soldiers were in Iraq and elsewhere.
Rouleau has since been burnishing his credentials in Ottawa, first as commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, which oversees all domestic and foreign operations, before recently taking over as Vance’s second-in-command.
“I think Mike is really the full-meal deal of all the current three-stars,” said Thibault, echoing an assessment shared by many defence insiders and observers.
Rouleau’s appointment would signal a continuation of the current path set by Vance’s five-year tenure — the longest in modern Canadian history — and enshrined in the Liberals’ defence policy.
That policy — known as Strong, Secure, Engaged — released in 2017 promised massive billions of dollars in investments over the next 20 years for more troops, new equipment such as warships and jets, and new capabilities in cyber and space.
A similar signal would be sent if the Liberal government tapped Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger, Canadian Army commander Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre or Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Art McDonald.
They, along with Lt.-Gen. Christopher Coates, who recently moved into Rouleau’s old job as head of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, would bring their own skills and styles, but they are also viewed as largely similar in terms of continuity.
Some worry the economic damage caused by COVID-19 has made the defence policy unaffordable and that the government might bring out the axe.
“If the government writ large turns its mind to budget cutting and deficit reduction, then National Defence is very, very unlikely to survive that for a number of different reasons,” said defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
“The biggest one is just the straight arithmetic of it being the largest share of federal budget share.”
Vice-Admiral Darren Hawco was one of the key architects of the defence policy, with insiders speaking in glowing terms of the way the former frigate commander managed the backroom battles that led to its development.
That included managing the priorities of the Air Force, Army and Navy against a set pot of money — an experience that would be especially important if the government wanted to start cutting.
Many have wondered whether the Liberals will appoint a woman to become Canada’s top military officer for the first time.
Such a move would fit with the Liberals’ progressive, feminist credentials and signal the government wants to see more action on addressing cultural issues such as racism as well as sexual misconduct and hate in the ranks.
“There is still this huge frustration in the Prime Minister’s Office (about) the military in not making progress on the sexual harassment side, and particularly the harassment, discrimination and hateful conduct stuff,” said Okros.
“It then becomes that issue of who is the right person to do that, and at one level, symbolic decisions may be of importance.”
That is where the first two female lieutenant-generals in Canada’s history — Christine Whitecross and Francis Allen — come up.
Whitecross in particular has been seen as a potential contender for the chief of the defence staff position for years, and the fact she spearheaded the military’s fight against sexual misconduct in the early going could be a feather in her cap.
Yet neither Whitecross nor Allen have much experience in the field and Perry said having a chief of the defence staff who didn’t command a warship, fly an aircraft or lead soldiers in the field would be almost as groundbreaking as appointing a woman.
“That would certainly be almost as notable for an organization that has a lot of cultural orientation around the operational end of things and putting people with those types of backgrounds into the top job,” Perry said.
Whichever way the government goes, says Thibault, “all of the three-stars currently in the mix wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t have very significant experience and credibility and knowledge and skills and the right leadership qualities.
“So you can take good confidence that they’re all bona fide Canadian Forces leaders. And whoever is picked, I think we would recognize at the very beginning that they will all bring something unique and relevant to the position as chief of defence staff.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2020.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada for Sept. 25
The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 11:42 a.m. EDT on Sept. 25, 2020:
There are 150,140 confirmed cases in Canada.
_ Quebec: 70,307 confirmed (including 5,814 deaths, 59,943 resolved)
_ Ontario: 48,905 confirmed (including 2,837 deaths, 42,169 resolved)
_ Alberta: 17,190 confirmed (including 261 deaths, 15,467 resolved)
_ British Columbia: 8,543 confirmed (including 229 deaths, 6,917 resolved)
_ Saskatchewan: 1,835 confirmed (including 24 deaths, 1,681 resolved)
_ Manitoba: 1,711 confirmed (including 19 deaths, 1,243 resolved)
_ Nova Scotia: 1,087 confirmed (including 65 deaths, 1,021 resolved)
_ Newfoundland and Labrador: 272 confirmed (including 3 deaths, 267 resolved)
_ New Brunswick: 199 confirmed (including 2 deaths, 191 resolved)
_ Prince Edward Island: 58 confirmed (including 57 resolved)
_ Yukon: 15 confirmed (including 15 resolved)
_ Repatriated Canadians: 13 confirmed (including 13 resolved)
_ Northwest Territories: 5 confirmed (including 5 resolved)
_ Nunavut: No confirmed cases
_ Total: 150,140 (0 presumptive, 150,140 confirmed including 9,254 deaths, 128,989 resolved)
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2020.
The Canadian Press
Terror probe opened after 2 wounded in Paris knife attack
PARIS — French terrorism authorities are investigating a knife attack that wounded at least two people Friday near the former offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, authorities said. A suspect has been arrested.
The area in eastern Paris remained cordoned off by police two hours after the attack. Children were being sequestered in nine schools while police worked to determine no other suspects were on the run, according to education and police officials.
It is unclear what motivated the attack or whether it was linked to Charlie Hebdo, which moved after its offices were targeted in a 2015 Islamic extremist attack that left 12 people dead.
Police cordoned off the area, including the former Charlie Hebdo offices, after a suspect package was noticed nearby, but the package was found to be harmless and no explosives were found, according a police official.
An investigation was opened into “attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise,” according to an official at the prosecutor’s office. Authorities did not release the identity of the suspect arrested in the area of the Bastille Plaza.
“I saw a guy that was in his 30s or 40s with an axe in his hand who was walking behind a victim covered in blood…I cant tell you how many victims there was, I just saw one,” witness Kader Alfa told The Associated Press at the scene.
AP reporters saw officers flooding into the neighbourhood, near the Richard Lenoir subway station.
The two people confirmed injured worked for documentary film company Premieres Lignes, according to founder Paul Moreira. He told BFM television that the attacker fled into the subway, and the company’s staff members were evacuated.
Moreira said a man in the street “attacked two people who were in front of the building, didn’t enter the building, and who attacked them with an axe and who left.” He said the company had not received any threats.
A Paris police official said that while authorities initially thought two attackers were involved, they now believe it was only one person, who was detained. The official said police were still searching the area while they questioned the arrested suspect.
Police initially announced that four people were wounded in the attack, but the official told The Associated Press that there are in fact only two confirmed wounded. Police could not explain the discrepancies.
Police did not release the identities of the attacker or the wounded, who are in “absolutely urgent” condition, the official said. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex cut short a visit to a suburb north of Paris to head to the Interior Ministry to follow developments.
The trial in the Charlie Hebdo attacks is currently underway across town. Murmurs broke at the terrorism trial of 14 people, including 3 fugitives, accused of helping the attackers in the January 2015 killings, as the news filtered through. The widows of the Charlie Hebdo attackers are scheduled to testify Friday afternoon.
Lori Hinnant and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.
Angela Charlton And Oleg Cetinic, The Associated Press
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