OTTAWA — Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk may be at the epicentre of the latest controversy to convulse the Canadian Armed Forces, but Canada’s second-highest ranking officer looked relaxed and was in good humour Wednesday when he reached out to emphatically deny that his resignation a day earlier had anything to do with his relationship with the country’s top soldier.
“I categorically would like to say that that is not the case,” the military’s second-in-command said during an interview at his office, before launching into a robust defence of his boss.
“The chief seems to be a target. It is not only unfair to him. It damages the institution,” Wynnyk said.
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“I think that there is a lot of unfair criticism going the chief’s way. He is a lightning rod. In many ways it is like there are conspiracists out there.”
Some have concluded that Gen. Wynnyk’s resignation was because of frictions between him and Vance. That was absolutely not so, Gen. Wynnyk said.
“Gen. Vance has been a great and supportive leader. We have known each other for over 40 years. That is why I really want to set the record straight. That is not the case at all. He has done and continues to do some great things for the Canadian Forces. When you look at Strong, Secure and Engaged (the government’s paper outlining its vision for the military’s future) and how we are engaged in the world I have the utmost confidence in his leadership.”
Perception is everything in the social media age. Stories can quickly mushroom into something that can shock those involved.
It was inevitably linked to the recent retirement of the Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. The admiral was relieved of his position as VCDS after being charged with breach of trust by the RCMP for allegedly providing information about the status of a supply ship contract to a shipyard.
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A likely reason for how quickly the resignation letter was leaked almost as soon as it was sent was that Gen. Wynnyk not only gave it to Gen. Vance but, unusually, emailed copies of it to 28 other generals and admirals. Most such notifications are usually sent to only a couple of people.
Gen. Wynnyk seemed genuinely surprised by the response to his decision to resign. He explained that he had shared it with so many other senior officers because he wanted them to know what was happening.
“I know there are leaks in the Department of National Defence,” the 55-year-old combat engineer said. “I just did not really expect, when I looked at those on that list, that those would leak it out, especially not that quickly.”
Calling the leak “distasteful,” to himself and to Gen. Vance, he added, “All these people are either my direct reports or they are my three stars that I work with. Rather than have them hear this through the rumour mill or second hand, I wanted them to understand, coming direct from me why we had made this transition.”
The dilemma for Gen. Wynnyk and for Gen. Vance is that the way this has come out has been another blow the military’s reputation. Many politicians, journalists and others who follow the military have concluded that the vice chief of the defence staff’s departure is an example of what they regard as upheaval, churn and unhappiness with the leadership at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa.
Gen. Wynyyk’s pending departure is being expedited over the next few weeks. It follows the recent retirement of his predecessor, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, after the Crown stayed a charge of breach of trust against him and he was offered his old job by Gen. Vance.
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“There is this perception that there is tumult in the Canadian Forces,” Wynnyk said. “From my point of view there isn’t. If you talk to most senior officers, they’d say, no there isn’t. They’d say we are getting on with business.”
The Norman saga has caused two years of agony for the admiral and his family, as well as for Vance and other senior officers who had to deal with the fallout after the RCMP arrested the admiral and then, after a long delay, the Crown decided there was no likelihood that they could get a conviction.
What is not widely known outside the military is that Gen. Vance has deep ties to both Wynnyk and Norman. These bonds have added to the anguish that has been felt by him, Wynnyk and Norman as well as others among the senior ranks.
Gen. Vance has been a close friend of Gen. Wynnyk’s since the generals met when they were cadets at Camp Petawawa as teenagers.
They did their first parachute jump together in Alberta and were roommates on Vancouver Island at Royal Roads, which was then a military college.
Gen. Vance’s relationship with Vice-Admiral Norman goes back even further. Their parents knew each other before they were born.
As infants, the future four star and the future three star shared the same bathwater when their mothers bathed them.
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Gen. Vance told Gen. Wynnyk that if Norman came back to his new position, the LGen’s career would be over. When the admiral reached a settlement with the government — the details of which have not been made public — Vance said Wynnyk could remain as VCDS.
However, Wynnyk said that after speaking with his wife, Marianne, who has been living on her own in Edmonton for the past five years while he was based in Ottawa, he decided that he, too, would retire.
“This was not precipitous,” he said. “It has been going on for two months. This is really a family decision and a discussion with my wife. We have been thinking about life outside the military.
Wynnyk said he respected Vance’s decision to offer Norman back his old job as VCDS, but when that happened it had caused him to talk to his wife about their future.
“We still dearly love each other so we started to think about other options and life outside the military,” he said. “That and combined with almost 39 years of this nomadic life, sent us on a mental train where we decided it was time.”
Near the end of the interview, Wynnyk commented that the explanations he had provided might not “sell, but that is kind of where Paul Wynnyk is at.”
Wynnyk and Vance had, he said, already begun to put together a list of likely candidates to become the next VCDS and would be soon be sending it and their recommendations to Defence Minister Harj Sajjan.
Matthew Fisher has been a journalist for 45 years and a foreign correspondent for 35 years. He is a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Visiting Resident Scholar in defence and security at Massey College, University of Toronto. He’s on Twitter @mfisheroverseas