May 24, 2015 1:02 pm
Updated: May 24, 2015 1:09 pm

‘Plane Talk’ with Canada’s top soldier, on the biggest threat to Canada

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WATCH: Canada’s chief of the defence staff joins Tom Clark for some “Plane Talk” about the biggest threat to Canada, whether politics are in his future, and his love of a Gibson Les Paul.

He has served as the commander of the Canadian Forces for nearly three years now and is expected to take his final salute later this summer.

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But before Gen. Tom Lawson says goodbye to the troops, the Royal Canadian Air Force general agreed to take a seat next to Tom Clark to chat about his future and his heroes.

The full transcript of Lawson’s flight is pasted below, but here are some highlights:

Biggest threat to Canada: Probably natural disasters such as fires, floods and hurricanes. In terms of man-made threats, the biggest danger might be “some sort of cyber threat to our systems, our energy systems, our computer systems, things that we bank on that would change our way of life very, very quickly.”

If you could travel anywhere in history: Second World War, to experience some of what his air force father lived through.

I think I would pick that excitement of that period where our grandfathers, where our fathers and grandfathers were fighting for our freedoms.

What will follow leaving the military: Not politics, likely. Lawson describes politics as a “mean game.” Considering the hours and efforts Canadian political leaders put in, he said he doesn’t see the payoff. “I admire them for what they do, but I don’t know about the reward at time in my life getting into something like that.”

 

Full transcript:

 

Tom Clark:

General Tom Lawson welcome to Plane Talk.

Tom Lawson:

Thanks, Tom.

Tom Clark:

Good to have you up. Now, I don’t know if you’re used to airplanes or not?

Tom Lawson:

[Laughing]

Tom Clark:

One or two I guess.

Tom Lawson:

Yeah, I got a few hours on them. Not too many this small though.

Tom Clark:
General, what do you think is the biggest threat to Canada right now?

Tom Lawson:

Well, you know Canadians are pretty secure in this country. We’ve got big wide tank ditches between us and any other continents called the Atlantic and the Pacific and another one to the north. So I think likely, and I wouldn’t pick a better country to be in, but I think likely our greatest threats are those that come nature: fires, floods, hurricanes. But if you’re talking manmade threats than I would think probably some sort of cyber threat to our systems, our energy systems, our computer systems, things that we bank on that would change our way of life very, very quickly.

 

Tom Clark:

What is your greatest personal extravagance?

 

Tom Lawson:

I made a big mistake when I was a kid, when I was in high school. I learned how to play guitar and then was teaching while I was in high school and bought an electric guitar that was the wrong electric guitar and the guitar shop owner said listen, you should sell that back to me and I’ve got a great price for you on a Gibson Les Paul. And I turned him down flat. I didn’t have $700 and there was no way I was going to put that kind of money out.

 

Tom Clark:

Wait a sec; I just want to be clear about this, you turned down a chance to buy a Gibson Les Paul?

 

 

Tom Lawson:

Well, I didn’t have the money. I was making $3.50 an hour working for him so you know, $700 bucks, you do the math and that’s a year’s worth of lessons. So, I lived without that guitar for the next 35 years and when I was down in the States, I finally went and bought the Gibson Les Paul Sunburst – $2,400. So there it is.

 

Tom Clark:

And you play it to this day?

 

Tom Lawson:

I do.

 

Tom Clark:

If you had a time machine, what time in history would you go back to?

 

Tom Lawson:

I grew up on World War II stories, Tom. My dad flew Spitfires and Mustangs and the chance to experience what he’s experienced and I’ll share with you that if there was such thing as a good war, I think he had it. Three years flying these things, had a lot of close calls, lost a lot of friends but was shot at, had some holes in his airplane but never hit. So it kind of, you know instilled in the desire to experience that. I think I would pick that excitement of that period where our grandfathers, where our fathers and grandfathers were fighting for our freedoms.

 

Tom Clark:

This leads to my next question and maybe you just answered it, but who is your greatest hero in real life?

 

Tom Lawson:

Well, I do think of my father. He passed about four years ago and a quiet man but a wonderful man. But, if I go back further in history, you’ve got to pick someone like Winston Churchill for his pugnaciousness and his eloquence. If I come into modern era, I just have the utmost admiration for His Excellency David Johnston, who is just such a fantastic Governor General, but in this job of mine as chief of defence staff, he told me on the first day, come any time I could be of any use to you. And since that day, he’s been so generous with his time. I’ve probably had 15 breakfasts with him and maybe 20 meetings and just a chance to talk to a man who’s experienced so much and done so much in his life is a fantastic thing.

 

Tom Clark:

What does an old chief of the defence staff do after you’re no longer CDS?

 

Tom Lawson:

Normally what we do is, get checked out at Rockcliffe Flying Club and become instructors there.

 

Tom Clark:

[Laughing]

 

Do you think that you might be tempted by political life? Would you ever want to run?

 

Tom Lawson:

No, I don’t think so. I look at—it’s a mean game. It’s a mean game.

 

Tom Clark:

Yeah.

 

Tom Lawson:

And the individuals who are in it, I’ve seen the hours they’ve put in. I’ve seen the hours—I used to fly them in Challengers. I see what they’re doing now, when messages come in from various ministers I’ve had at whatever time at night, whatever time in the morning and I think we as Canadians, as much if not more than any other nation, I’ve seen have a distinct cynicism towards our elected officials and so I admire them for what they do, but I don’t know about the reward at time in my life getting into something like that.

 

Tom Clark:

General Lawson said that as yet he’s got no plans for the future, no job offers to consider but he’s open to all ideas.

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