PM delivers remarks at the Chief of Defence Staff Change of Command ceremony

Ottawa, Ontario
29 October 2012

Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered the following remarks at the Chief of Defence Staff Change of Command ceremony:

“Your Excellency Governor General Johnston, Minister MacKay, Minister Valcourt and Parliamentary colleagues, Generals Natynczyk and Lawson, Chaplain-General McLean, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, honoured veterans, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

“Let me begin today by repeating what I said at the last of these ceremonies four years ago.

“Today we pass the command of the Canadian Armed Forces from one man to another.

“But today’s ceremony is not about either of these outstanding officers because it is not about any individual.

“It is about the continuity of an institution, the Canadian military, the institution most vital to the sovereignty of our country, to the security of our national life and to the protection of our place in the world.

“Two hundred years ago this year, the first roots of this institution took hold when Canadians of diverse backgrounds risked, and in many cases, lost their lives in the war that firmly established our existence as a separate country.

“And in every generation since the War of 1812, a special group of citizens, men and women, have put on the uniform and put themselves in harm’s way, so that their fellow Canadians need not.

“General Natynczyk, in your four years as Chief of Defence Staff, you have led and moved forward, in an exceptional manner, the very best of these two centuries of Canadian military tradition.

“Now I know, Walt, you gave us an overview of how busy that time has been, let me just take a few short moments to repeat what I consider to be some of the highlights.

“You have managed the most challenging combat mission of the Canadian Armed Forces since the Korean War, and you have been witness to much heroic service both in combat and in civilian assistance, and you have successfully transitioned it to the Afghan training mission that continues today.

“You executed the most rapid military-led expedition in Canadian history, when the Canadian Armed Forces provided the logistical backbone to our whole-of-government humanitarian mission to Haiti in 2010.

“You were CDS during the mission to Libya in 2011, the most successful NATO mission ever, one in which Canada’s role and Canadian leadership was unprecedented.

“You have done the heavy lifting in putting in place the Canada First Defence Strategy with its renewed emphasis on land, sea and air surveillance and the projection of our Forces throughout our vast sovereign territory.

“This has also involved the integration of important new equipment, with particular emphasis on the rebuilding of the Canadian Army and, to some extent, the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“I think of the C-17 fleet, new tanks, heavy-lift helicopters, upgraded LAVs and the new CC-130J Hercules fleet, among others.

“Through it all, General, I have been constantly struck by your energy and dedication, your willingness, indeed your enthusiasm, to be anywhere at any time no matter how inconvenient or unpleasant some of those journeys might be, not merely out of loyalty to the country, but also out of a sense of duty to those who serve under you.

“Anyone who knows you, General, or who has had the opportunity to witness your service, understands your deep sense of responsibility and care to those who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces and their families, especially to those who have been injured in the course of that service.

“For all of these things, General Natyncyzk, we thank you and we honour you, give Walt one more hand.

“General Lawson, as you assume command of this most vital Canadian institution, I remind you that you must see your responsibility not just in terms of the few short years ahead, but as the beginning of the two centuries to come.

“There is much to do.

“The Afghan training mission will, in turn, and before too long, be ending.

“At the same time, the lessons learned and capabilities developed in Afghanistan must be retained for future missions yet unknown, and, indeed, today, unknowable.

“The rebuilding of the Forces must continue.

“The National Shipbuilding Strategy will start the long process of re-equipping the Royal Canadian Navy and major steps remain, as you know well, for that of the Air Force.

“Yet 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.

“The Forces must be restructured to ensure administrative burdens are reduced and resources freed up for the front line.

“The Canada First Defence Strategy must continue to advance, and as I’ve said before, with the constant search for more teeth and less tail.

“Within very real budgetary constraints, Canada needs to maintain a modern, general purpose, military capability.

“Our Armed Forces must be as ready to bring disaster relief as to deliver lethal force.

“They must be at home in search and rescue, and just as comfortable in the newer, sovereignty capabilities I saw demonstrated during Operation Nanook these past few years.

“This kind of readiness means everybody involved, at every level, in every function must think big picture and long term.

“I have no doubt you will rise to these challenges and more.

“From your early days as a Starfighter pilot in Germany, your career has been marked by a readiness to step up to the plate and provide leadership no matter how difficult, or how unexpected, the circumstances.

“I look forward to working with you.

“And, in the presence of your colleagues, General Lawson, I congratulate you and I thank you for your willingness to assume command.

“Now, just a couple more points, both about family, specifically about the Natynczyk family.

“First, it is said that they also serve who only stand and wait.

“Leslie, we understand that these past four years cannot have been easy
for you or could not have been done without you.

“We have asked a lot of Walt, that means we have asked a lot from you.

“So I just want to say thank you for the sacrifices you have made, and for all the support and encouragement that you have given to Walt.

“And, thank you too, for your personal contributions to our military families, a role you and Walt championed arm-in-arm, because I know you come from military families, your mother also served.

“And I want to thank you for being such great parents.

“I say this not only because it is the most important role in life that any of us have, but also because, as has been noted, the three Natynczyk children have all joined  the Canadian Armed Forces and Walt has finally gotten over the fact that they did not all join the Army.

“Again, thank you, Walt and Leslie, for everything.

“Good luck, Tom, to you, and a special welcome to Kelly and all of your family, I know you also have three children, two of whom have also joined the Canadian military, the Air Force.

“And Walt, Tom, to both of you, and your families, I wish all success in the years to come.

“God bless both of you, God bless your families, God bless the men and women in the Canadian military and God bless Canada.”