CHURCHILL, Man. - There were strong signals Friday that Canada's chief of the defence staff is on the verge of leaving his post.
While speaking to Canadian Forces troops taking part in annual summer exercises up north, both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay sounded like they were bidding farewell to Gen. Walt Natynczyk.
Harper cut away from his prepared remarks at the close of Operation Nanook to thank Natynczyk for his years of service.
"Let me use this opportunity in front of so many of your people here to thank you and congratulate you on over four years of fine service as chief of the defence staff of Canada," Harper said.
After Harper's speech, MacKay took the podium to publicly salute Natynczyk's dedication to the military.
"He has a keen understanding of our vision for the North, a strong determination to tackle Arctic defence challenges and an unflagging motivation to work alongside others and bring the government strategy to fruition," MacKay said.
"By all estimations, by all measures, he is one of the best leaders in our country today."
For weeks, Ottawa's corridors of power have been abuzz with rumours about a replacement for Natynczyk, who spent four years serving at the top of the Canadian military.
Several names are being bandied around as possible replacements, including Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson, Canada's representative at NORAD, and Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, head of the country's overseas command.
Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson is also said to be a contender. He is in the same job now as Natynczyk was before he took over from Gen. Rick Hillier as Canada's top soldier.
In his own remarks, Natynczyk said he was humbled by the praise and paid tribute to the troops who had just taken part in the military exercise.
"Everybody who puts on a uniform wants to serve, they want to make a contribution to Canada, whether it be coast to coast or Arctic coast or around the world," he said.
"Because, indeed, the sun never sets on the Canadian Forces."