Retired Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie
Credits: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE
Gen. Walt Natynczyk has held the post since mid-2008, succeeding Gen. Rick Hillier who, arguably, was our most colourful, outspoken and dynamic CDS. In the public's mind, Hillier personified our military's achievements in Afghanistan.
A former deputy commander of the U.S. Army's
III Corps in Iraq, under Natynczyk as CDS Canada's role in Afghanistan was ratcheted down, the DND budget was trimmed, DND staff due to be culled, future missions restricted. This wasn't Natynczyk's doing - it's government policy for him to administer.
Three years is about the average term for a CDS - a role instigated in 1964 to speak for and co-ordinate the commanders of the navy, army and air force.
And speculation is rife among the three services as to who is most likely to be the next CDS.
A couple of admirals, several army generals and an air force general are mentioned as possible candidates, but in these harsh economic times of cutbacks and the need for updated equipment, it seems the one most qualified to be CDS may be Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, former chief of land staff, who was subsequently chief of transformation of the Canadian Forces.
Leslie retired last fall but, like Gen. John de Chastelain before him, could be seconded out of retirement to be CDS. Leslie's report - recommending changes and efficiencies in the Forces without affecting performance - worried the military but was popular with the PM, who is economizing every way he can.
Although there would be miffed feelings - even resentment - among contenders for the CDS job, it's pretty hard to argue against Leslie's credentials.
He was bypassed for CDS when Hillier and Natynczyk got the job, but he's served as a commander in Afghanistan, as well as in the Balkans, and on paper seems a natural.
Critics point out that the CDS job traditionally is rotated through the three services, but that's not quite true. Both Hillier and Natynczyk were army - both Armoured Corps. Leslie is a gunner - former CO of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.
Canada's penchant for rotating command for political purposes resulted in disaster when instead of appointing the most qualified officer to command the Airborne Regiment when it went on a UN Chapter Seven (fighting) mission to Somalia, political considerations demanded that an inexperienced colonel from the Van Doos get the job.
A Princess Pats commander was the logical choice, but it was the Van Doos' turn. The outcome was the torture death of a Somali civilian and an inquiry that resulted in the Airborne Regiment being disbanded.
In 1983-89, an air force general succeeded another air force general as CDS, and then, of course Natyncyzk followed Hillier, 2005-12. The last admiral to hold the post was Larry Murray (1996-97), and the last air force CDS was Ray Henault (2001-05).
Whoever becomes the new CDS is going to have a thankless job of ensuring the military remains effective despite an insufficient budget, limited updated equipment and with reduced numbers in the Canadian Forces.
It's a daunting task, but one that Gen. Leslie seems to have anticipated in his report, so perhaps he is a logical choice for the job.