OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to announce Canada's new top soldier any day now.
The big reveal could come as early as Monday, though Harper's spokesman Andrew MacDougall wouldn’t confirm the government was on the eve of the naming the new military chief, saying only "the decision will be made in due course."
Rumours have been rampant that Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk's replacement would be named soon - and those rumours heated to a fever pitch when Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay sang his praises Friday in what appeared to be a public farewell while addressing the troops during Operation Nanook, the military`s annual northern training exercise.
“Let me us this opportunity, in front of so many of your people here, to thank you and to congratulate you on over four years of fine service as chief of the defence staff of Canada,” Harper said.
MacKay then stood to offer his accolades, saying, "By all estimations, by all measures, he is one of the best leaders in our country today."
Retired Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, whose name had been floated as a likely candidates for the post, no longer appears to be in the running.
Leslie, who served as chief of transformation for the military before retiring in September 2011, was the architect of a controversial report that laid out the blueprint to have almost $2 billion shaved off the defence budget by reducing bureaucracy at headquarters and spending less on consultants.
Among the potential top candidates reported to be in the running are Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, current commander of the navy, and Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, currently Natynczyk's second-in-command.
There's been speculation Harper wants to appoint an admiral to head up the armed forces, since it's been 15 years since a navy officer was at the helm of the military and the navy factors heavily in northern defence and strategy.
Lt.-Gen Stuart Beare, who heads up Canada's overseas operations, is another name that's been bandied about, while Maj.-Gen John Vance – who led Canada's mission in Afghanistan - has been rumoured as a long-shot candidate.
In mid-August, MacKay told reporters an announcement would be coming soon.
Natynczyk has been Canada's military chief since July 2008 and the government has spent months narrowing down the field to find his successor.
Canada's chief of defence staff is appointed by the prime minister and has the command, control and administration of the armed forces.