Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen has become the first woman appointed as the military’s second-in-command.
Her appointment as vice-chief of defence staff comes as the military undergoes a fresh round of soul-searching following explosive misconduct allegations against top brass.
Former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance and his successor Admiral Art McDonald, who temporarily stepped aside just six weeks into the job, face accusations of inappropriate behaviour.
Allen had been seen as a possible contender to take over from Vance as Canada’s first female defence chief, before McDonald was selected for the job.
She most recently served as Canada’s military representative to NATO headquarters in Brussels and is the second woman to have attained the rank of lieutenant-general in the Armed Forces.
She’s taking over as vice-chief from Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, who had been in the running for the acting chief of defence staff position, a job ultimately given to Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre.
The senior leadership shuffle was announced by Eyre Tuesday morning.
“Each leader will go on to represent Canada, whether at home or abroad, in key decision making positions,” he said in a statement.
“The responsibilities of shaping the CAF of the future are great.”
Eyre’s optimism, however, comes at a time when numerous investigations are underway into the conduct of former military officials.
A political battle is also brewing over how much the Liberal government knew or didn’t about allegations concerning Vance and McDonald.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, while welcoming Allen’s appointment, said overall, trust in the military is eroding and press releases about appointments aren’t going to save it.
“We have to show swift and serious action for the men and women wearing uniform, particularly the women wearing uniform need to see that their voices will be heard,” O’Toole said.
“And so far, I’ve seen the Liberals more worried about avoiding responsibility than showing that our Canadian Armed Forces needs to be an institution that is that is preserved and respected.”
O’Toole was a cabinet minister in the Conservative government that appointed Vance as chief of defence staff in 2015, but said Tuesday he wasn’t involved in that decision.
But who was is part of the probe by the House of Commons defence committee looking into how the government handled allegations levelled against both Vance and McDonald.
That study was launched after a report by Global News alleging Vance had an ongoing relationship with a subordinate that continued after he was named chief of the defence staff, at which time he promised to root out sexual misconduct from the Armed Forces.
Global has also reported on allegations about Vance sending an email to a much younger female soldier in 2012, suggesting they go to a clothing-optional resort.
Vance has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Canadian Press and the allegations against him have not been independently verified. Global News has reported that Vance has denied any wrongdoing.
The McDonald allegations surfaced after those reports. The Liberals have said they did not know about them when he was tapped to succeed Vance.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh stressed the Allen announcement’s symbolic importance for the institution and women and men in the service.
“It has an incredible impact in terms of inspiring people and inspiring future generations, making people feel like they belong,” he said.
“But the toxic culture won’t be fixed by one appointment. And the problem is that what happened recently cannot be ignored, the impact that has had on women in the military.”
Singh lauded the courage of whistleblowers and complainants, but criticized the government’s response to recent accusations against top brass.
“It says that even if your complaint makes it to the desk of the defence minister, nothing’s going to happen.”
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet echoed Singh’s sentiments.
“The appointment of a woman as the No. 2 commander — and why not No. 1 — it seems to me it could involve greater confidence in the army when it comes to its staff,” he said.