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Surprise retirement leaves military searching for sixth vice-chief in four years


OTTAWA — The Canadian military is searching for its sixth second-in-command in less than four years after Lt.-Gen. Jean-Marc Lanthier's surprise decision to retire this summer.

The turnover in vice-chiefs of the defence staff has been of concern to many observers given the importance of the position, which is responsible for much of the day-to-day financial oversight and management of the Canadian Armed Forces.

In a statement released by the Department of National Defence, Lanthier said he chose to retire less than a year into the job to spend more time with his family after more than 30 years in uniform.

"This is not an easy decision, nor is it one that I take lightly," he said. "I am truly grateful for the support my wife Pam has provided throughout the years and am in constant awe of her incredible strength."

Lanthier was installed as vice-chief last July, bringing what many hoped would be stability to the position after years of turnover that began with Vice-Admiral Mark Norman's suspension in January 2017.

Norman himself had served five months as vice-chief before he was suspended and eventually removed altogether. An RCMP investigation led to his being charged with breach of trust for allegedly leaking government secrets — a charge that was eventually dropped.

Two other military officers — Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd and Lt.-Gen. Alain Parent — served as acting vice-chiefs of the defence staff while Norman was being investigated before Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk was appointed as Norman's full-time replacement in July 2018.

But Wynnyk announced his own retirement last summer after chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance tried to return Norman to the position, only to see Norman take a financial settlement from the government and retire.

The Opposition Conservatives have previously blamed the Liberal government for the upheaval among the top brass since the investigation against Norman began, while others have questioned Vance's leadership.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan raised concerns about the impact on military morale as he asked Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan about the high rate of turnover during a House of Commons parliamentary committee hearing Wednesday, at which Lanthier also appeared.

"That makes six vice-chief of defence staff that we have gone through, minister," Bezan said. "What's going on here that we've had such a high turnover? It is political leadership? Is it military leadership? What's the issue?"

Sajjan, who thanked Lanthier for his service during his opening statement to the committee, suggested that while the second-in-command has changed several times, key people in the vice-chief's office have remained in place for years.

Vance echoed that assessment in an interview as he played down the impact on the military of the turnover and defended his own management of the situation, saying he's "reacting to the circumstances" as best he can.

Wynnyk attributed his abrupt decision to resign last year to his desire to return to his family, but a letter sent to Vance linked his decision to the aborted attempt to reinstate Norman after the breach-of-trust case against him collapsed.

"None of these things I set out to do by design," Vance told The Canadian Press.  "They were simply reacting to the circumstances, reacting as transparently as I could to the circumstances. In this case, Lt.-Gen. Lanthier's decision is very much his own for the reasons he stated in his comments and have nothing to do really with me."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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