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Retired general Rick Hillier, who is overseeing the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Ontario, has a new job advising an Ottawa defence company on how to boost their sales internationally.
The executive chairman of KWESST says Hillier’s new position involves “light duties” so it shouldn’t interfere with his work on the vaccine distribution plan. “He’s obviously going to be preoccupied with his current (COVID) duties but everybody can always find time in that for discussion so that is what we expect to do next,” explained David Luxton, KWESST’s executive chairman.
Luxton said the firm will work with Hillier in the coming weeks to plan and roll out an international advisory council for the defence company whose products include electronic systems and decoys and technologies to counter drones and laser on the battlefield.
Hillier is being paid $20,000 a month, plus expenses, by the Ontario government for his role as chairman of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force.
Questions directed to Hillier and Premier Doug Ford’s office were responded to by the office of the Solicitor General. “Gen Hillier will not be commencing his new part-time advisory role until he completes his function here as the Task Force Chair so there is no possible conflict,” spokesman John Williston stated in an email.
The retired general faced criticism in December when the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine was halted because of the holidays. There has also been anger at the Ontario government because of the slow pace of vaccinations, but Hillier has countered that the speed of the program is linked to the vaccine supply chain.
Hillier’s appointment to the vaccination task force was effective Nov. 22 and will run until March 31, 2021, although the Ontario government has said it will extend that if his services are needed beyond that date.
Luxton said Hillier’s duties for the company are very important and the firm is excited to have him on board. “From our discussions, he takes this one on with real heart,” Luxton added. “We’re excited about his passion and his passion in seeing the best technology come out of Canada.”
The council will provide KWESST with advice as it tries to expand into the global defence market.
In announcing Hillier’s appointment in late November to head the vaccine task force, Ford called the general a “Canadian hero.” The premier said Hillier’s military expertise was critical to the success of the distribution plan, although the Canadian Forces has had a very limited role in that distribution.
Hillier said he took the job on the vaccine task force because “duty calls.”
But some have questioned why individuals with expertise in medical or hospital administration or logistics weren’t named to head the task force.
Linda Hasenfratz, a member of Hillier’s vaccine advisory team, recently had to resign after it was revealed she travelled overseas for a vacation over the holidays.
In accepting his new job with KWESST, Hillier noted in the company’s news release, “I have always been impressed at how our home-grown Canadian defence technology companies have stepped up to support our troops with critical, world-class capability, just as our servicemen and women have always impressed by punching above their weight, something I remain immensely proud of.”
“I’m pleased to still be ‘in the fight’ with strategic advice to KWESST,” he added.
Luxton said Hillier’s role is a paid position involving an honorarium but he didn’t get into details about payment.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021