Chief of Defence Staff General Tom Lawson speaks during the Chief of Defence Staff Change of Command ceremony in Ottawa today. — Photo by The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — As the military swears in its new leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is warning Gen. Tom Lawson that he’ll have to find a way to balance fiscal restraint against capabilities.
Lawson was officially appointed as chief of the defence staff, taking over the country’s highest military post in a ceremony today at the Canadian War Museum.
The ceremony was also attended by Gov. Gen. David Johnston, who wore full military uniform for the occasion.
After praising the departing chief, Gen. Walt Natynczyk, Harper warned Lawson that he’ll have challenges ahead.
“The forces will also be subject to the same pressures that the uncertainties of the global economy have imposed across our government and around the world,” Harper said.
“In order to free up resources to carry out work on the ground, administrative expenses have to be reduced.”
Harper said Lawson must find a way to cut the administrative tail while keeping the teeth sharp.
“Canada needs to maintain a modern, general-purpose, military capability,” he said. “Our armed forces must be as ready to bring disaster relief as to deliver lethal force.”
Natynczyk led the military for over four years through the latter half of the war in Afghanistan and both Johnston and Defence Minister Peter MacKay heaped praise on his work.
The Governor General underlined the importance of the top military post.
“Just as the principle of duty with honour acts as the centre of gravity for the military profession in Canada, so, too is the chief of defence staff the centre of gravity for the men and women who comprise the Canadian Forces,” Johnston said.
Natynczyk described it as the “best job in the world.”
MacKay said the military will be in good hands with Lawson.
The new top commander said he was “very fortunate” to follow Natynczyk, whom he called a friend and mentor.
Lawson is a one-time fighter pilot who has commanded the country’s largest air base and held a number of senior staff positions, but never a field command.
He’s been an articulate defender of the contentious F-35 stealth fighter purchase.
But Lawson arrives as the military faces a post-war cash crunch that could see its budget shrink by as much as $2.5 billion a year by 2014.
As a reflection of that, the change of command ceremony was subdued compared with the 2008 send-off for retired general Rick Hillier, who rode a tank into retirement.
The event for Lawson, which took place under overcast skies amid the threat of an approaching storm, included an honour guard and a 21-gun salute.
Natynczyk said the military will always face budget challenges, but urged the government to continue to invest in defence.
Reflecting on his time as chief of staff, Natynczyk said Canadian troops made a difference in Afghanistan and stood their ground in Kandahar.
The military is better for its combat experience, including the mission over Libya, he said.