Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the decision today, ending months of speculation around who would succeed Gen. Jonathan Vance as Canada’s chief of the defence staff.
McDonald had served as commander of the Navy since June 2019.
His appointment ends a long drought for the Navy, which has been passed over numerous times as various governments have instead appointed officers from the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force as defence chief.
It also follows the failed prosecution of another former Navy commander, Mark Norman, who many saw as the most likely to succeed Vance.
Speaking outside his Ottawa residence, Trudeau said McDonald will oversee the role the Canadian Armed Forces has in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the country.
He also thanked Vance for his service to the country.
Vance announced in July that he would step down after more than five years as Canada’s chief of the defence staff.
In an interview last week with The Canadian Press, Trudeau hinted that an announcement about Vance’s successor was imminent.
At the time, Trudeau said a key priority for the new defence chief was to fight systemic racism in the ranks and create a more inclusive military “where there is less of the concerning, troubling reports of extremism that continue to bounce up every now and then.”
Such reports have included a number of high-profile cases in recent years, including one former Canadian Army reservist who was an alleged recruiter for a neo-Nazi group and is now in custody on firearms charges in the U.S.
The military is also investigating the 4th Canadian Ranger Group over concerns some members are associated with right-wing groups.
One member was arrested in July after allegedly driving a truck through the gates of Rideau Hall with a loaded weapon and uttering threats against Trudeau.