OTTAWA – The military changed the guard at the top today.
Gen. Tom Lawson was officially appointed as chief of the defence staff, taking over the country’s highest military post.
Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston took part in the ceremony at the Canadian War Museum.
Lawson replaced Gen. Walt Natynczyk who led the military for over four years through the latter half of the Afghan war.
Johnston and Defence Minister Peter MacKay heaped praise on the departing Natynczyk.
The Governor General underlined the importance of the 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, who 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 took place under a solid overcast with the threat of an approaching storm, but included an honour guard and a 21-gun salute for the Governor General.
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.