Rick Hillier

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Rick Hillier
General Hillier in 2005
Chief of the Defence Staff
In office
February 4, 2005 – July 1, 2008
Preceded byRay Henault
Succeeded byWalter Natynczyk
Chief of the Land Staff
In office
May 30, 2003 – February 4, 2005
Preceded byMike Jeffery
Succeeded byMarc Caron
Chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force
In office
November 23, 2020 – March 31, 2021
PremierDoug Ford
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byHomer Tien
Chancellor of the Memorial University of Newfoundland
In office
July 3, 2008 – 2012
Preceded byJohn Crosbie
Succeeded bySusan Knight
Personal details
Born1955 (age 68–69)
Campbellton, Newfoundland
Alma materMemorial University of Newfoundland (BSc)
OccupationMilitary officer, public speaker
Military service
Allegiance Canada
Branch/service Land Force Command
Years of service1973–2008
Rank General
CommandsMulti-National Division (South-West),
Chief of the Land Staff,
Chief of the Defence Staff
Battles/warsWar in Afghanistan
AwardsCommander of the Order of Military Merit
Meritorious Service Cross
Canadian Forces' Decoration

Rick J. Hillier OC CMM ONL MSC CD (born June 30, 1955) is a retired Canadian Forces general, who served as the chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) from 4 February 2005 to 1 July 2008. He previously served as the chief of the Land Staff from 30 May 2003 until his promotion to CDS.

From 23 November 2020 to 31 March 2021, Hillier oversaw the province of Ontario's vaccination task-force in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in 1955 to Jack and Myrtle Hillier in Campbellton, Notre Dame Bay, Newfoundland, he was the fourth of six children, with him being the only boy. He attended Greenwood High School and graduated in June 1972.[3]

Hillier intended to join the military early, at 16. After receiving his father's permission, Hillier submitted his application to join the Canadian Forces in Spring 1972. He initially wanted to be a fighter pilot, but failed the medical examination. He then applied to join the Canadian Forces as an officer cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada but was rejected. At a similar time, he applied to and was accepted by Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Hillier chose to attend Memorial University, studying biology. While at Memorial University, his application to become an officer cadet was accepted, but he chose to continue studying in Newfoundland as part of the Regular Officer Training Program.[4]

While studying he met his wife, Joyce and they were married in Lower Island, Conception Bay, Newfoundland.[5]

Early military career[edit]

In January 1998, as commander of 2 CMBG, he led Operation Recuperation, the Canadian Forces' intervention in the paralyzing ice storm in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. He went on to command the Multi-National Division (South-West) in Bosnia-Herzegovina.[6]

He was named chief of the land staff, commanding Land Force Command, on May 30, 2003.[7] He is noted for his public calls for increased resources for the Canadian Forces.[8] In 2003, when he was appointed chief of the land staff, he said, "Any commander who would stand up here and say that we didn't need more soldiers should be tarred and feathered and rode out of town on a rail."[9] After serving as chief of the land staff and before being appointed chief of the defence staff, he commanded the NATO ISAF in Afghanistan from February 9 to August 12, 2004.[10]

Chief of the Defence Staff[edit]

On February 4, 2005, Hillier became chief of the defence staff. At the change-of-command ceremony he repeated his call, more broadly, for increased military funding. "In this country, we could probably not give enough resources to the men and women to do all the things that we ask them to do," he said, with Prime Minister Paul Martin and Minister of National Defence Bill Graham looking on. "But we can give them too little, and that is what we are now doing. Remember them in your budgets."[11] Upon his appointment, he became the highest-ranking military officer from Newfoundland and Labrador.[12]

Uncle Rick[edit]

Hillier was a popular CDS. When speaking to troops on parade, he would frequently call them into a hollow circle around him rather than delivering a generic speech from a podium while they stood to attention. At briefings, Hillier asked every person what they thought about a situation at hand – regardless of their rank, language, or nationality.[13]

Media criticism[edit]

Hillier was known for his plain-spoken language and focus on frontline capabilities. Early in his term as CDS, he drew criticism from the media when he called terrorists "detestable murderers and scumbags".[14] He went further, saying "we're not the public service of Canada. We're not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people."[15]


On April 15, 2008, Hillier announced he would step down as CDS on July 1, 2008.[16]

Hillier was subsequently appointed as chancellor of Memorial University of Newfoundland, effective July 3, 2008.[17]


Public speaking[edit]

Upon retirement in 2008, Hillier joined the public speaking arena and developed his own speaking agency.[18]

Working with a number of large corporate clients, Hillier's speaking detailed the experiences of troops under his command, emphasizing the theme of "leadership in tough times."[19]

Project Hero[edit]

In 2009, Hillier co-founded Project Hero, a scholarship program for the children of Canadian Forces personnel killed while on active military duty. The Children of Deceased Veterans – Education Assistance Act verification is used to verify Project Hero eligibility. The process is administered by Veterans Affairs Canada.[20]


On August 14, 2008, Telus announced that Hillier was appointed as chair of Telus Atlantic Canada Community Board. Hillier said, “Telus is a company that gets stuff done both in business and in the community – I like that. They are entrusting their philanthropic efforts in Atlantic Canada to people who live and work here. I'm excited about the opportunity to help Telus engage with the Atlantic Canada communities that are so very important to me.”[21]

TD Bank[edit]

Hillier announced on September 3, 2008, he will be working at an Ottawa office for the TD Bank to support initiatives that enhance the client and customer experience and to assist the bank's ongoing leadership development and training activities.[22]

Provincial Aerospace[edit]

On June 16, 2009, while attending the 48th International Paris Air Show, Provincial Aerospace announced that Hillier will join the company’s Advisory Board.[23]


Since his retirement from the military Hillier's name has been mentioned as a leadership candidate for several political parties. Hillier's name was mentioned by political pundits as a possible successor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, during Harper's minority Conservative government.[24] When Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams retired from politics in 2010, Hillier's name was brought up as a possible successor to the Progressive Conservative premier.[25] In August 2011, his name was brought up once again as a potential Liberal leader in his home province, when leader Yvonne Jones resigned. Hillier has stated on several occasions however that he has no interest in politics.[26]

COVID-19 vaccine task-force for Ontario[edit]

In November 2020, Hillier was appointed as the chair of the vaccine distribution taskforce for Ontario by Premier Doug Ford in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario. Hillier leads the task-force in its rollout and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada, distributed federally and administered by the province.[27] After the Christmas and holiday season in December, 2020, Hillier formally apologized to Ontarians for halting vaccine administration for a number of days, calling the move a "mistake".[28] Hillier left the position March 31, 2021.[2] He was replaced with Homer Tien as operation lead.[29]


In 2011, he was made an officer of the Order of Canada "for his service to our nation, which has inspired pride in our Canadian Forces".[30] In December 2013, it was announced that Hillier would be appointed to the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador by Lieutenant Governor Frank Fagan during a ceremony in February 2014.[31]

Ribbon bars of General (Ret'd) RJ Hillier
OC, CMM, ONL, MSC, CD [32]
Ribbon Description Notes[33]
Order of Canada (OC)
  • Officer
  • 4 October 2012
Order of Military Merit (CMM)
  • Commander
  • 1 September 2001
Order of St John (O.StJ)
  • Officer
  • 2005
Order of Newfoundland and Labrador (ONL)
  • Member
  • 2013
Meritorious Service Cross (MSC)
  • 24 September 2001
General Campaign Star
  • South West Asia
Special Service Medal
Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal
  • 30 Days Service on a United Nations or International Peacekeeping Mission
United Nations Medal

during the Yugoslav Wars

NATO Medal
  • With "ISAF" Clasp
  • 30 Days Service on Nato Mission in Afghanistan
125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal
  • 1992
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal
  • 2002
  • Canadian Version of this Medal
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
  • 2012
  • Canadian Version of this Medal
Canadian Forces' Decoration (CD)
Commemorative Medal for the Centennial of Saskatchewan
  • 27 May 2005
Alberta Centennial Medal
  • 24 March 2005
Order of Orange-Nassau
Legion of Merit
Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service


University degrees
Location Date School Degree
 Newfoundland and Labrador 1975 Memorial University of Newfoundland Bachelor of Science (B.Sc)[34]
Chancellor, visitor, governor, rector and fellowships
Location Date School Position
 Newfoundland and Labrador 2008–2012 Memorial University of Newfoundland Chancellor[35]

Honorary degrees
Location Date School Degree Gave Commencement Address
 Ontario 13 November 2009 Royal Military College of Canada Doctor of Military Science (D.Sc.Mil) [36]
 Alberta 11 December 2010 University of Calgary Doctorate [37][38]
 Newfoundland and Labrador 29 May 2013 Memorial University of Newfoundland Doctor of Laws (LL.D)[39][40]


Location Date Institution Award
 Ontario 2008 Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph Lincoln Alexander Outstanding Leader Award [41]


  • Hillier, Rick (2010) A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War; hardcover, 552 pages; published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; ISBN 978-1554684915.
  • Hillier, Rick (2010) Leadership: 50 Points of Wisdom for Today's Leaders; hardcover, 272 pages; published by Harper Collins Publishers Ltd; ISBN 978-1554684939.


  1. ^ "Ontario taps former head of Canadian military to lead COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force". Toronto. 23 November 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  2. ^ a b "'I think I am going to put a ball and a chain around his ankle to keep him:' Hillier set to depart March 31". CP24. 15 March 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  3. ^ Hillier, pp. 19, 21, 23
  4. ^ Hillier, pp. 28–29
  5. ^ Hillier, p. 29
  6. ^ "Stabilisation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Previous Commanders". nato.int. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  7. ^ "Lieutenant-General R.J. Hillier, CMM, CD, Chief of the Land Staff". Canadian Department of National Defence. Archived from the original on 19 February 2005. Retrieved 6 October 2008.
  8. ^ Chase, Steven (6 June 2008). "'Gentleman general' named new defence chief". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  9. ^ Ward, John (30 September 2017). "Rick Hillier reconnected Canadians with Forces". CTV.ca. Ottawa. Canadian Press. Retrieved 6 October 2008.
  10. ^ "Canada in Afghanistan: 2004 – The Long Road". nationalpost.com. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  11. ^ The essential Rick Hillier: Facts and quotes, CTV News, April 15, 2008
  12. ^ "Harper to name new top general: report". The Ottawa Citizen. 6 June 2008. Archived from the original on 19 June 2008.
  13. ^ "Why troops so loved Gen. Hillier". Edmonton Journal. 3 July 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  14. ^ "Gen. Hillier explains the Afghan mission". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  15. ^ "Munk Debates – Rick Hillier". munkdebates.com. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  16. ^ "DND/CF | News Release | Message from the Chief of the Defence Staff to the Canadian Forces". Archived from the original on 22 April 2008.
  17. ^ CTV News, June 26, 2008 Hillier named chancellor of Memorial University (retrieved 06/27/2008)
  18. ^ Rick Watson. "The Inspiration Series". inspirationseries.ca. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  19. ^ "The Hillier Inspiration Series". The Hillier Inspiration Series. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
  20. ^ Project Hero Archived January 13, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Telus News Release 08/14/2008 [1] (retrieved 09/11/2009)
  22. ^ "Retired general Rick Hillier to work with TD bank". 3 September 2008. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  23. ^ "Provincial Aerospace Press Release". Archived from the original on 6 September 2012.
  24. ^ Ivison, John (23 January 2009). "General doesn't want Harper's job". National Post. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  25. ^ "Hillier 'probably' not running for N.L. leader". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 December 2010. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  26. ^ Carlson, Kathryn Blaze (11 August 2011). "Hillier shoots down rumours of N.L. Liberal leadership bid". National Post. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  27. ^ "Ontario appoints retired Gen. Rick Hillier to oversee vaccine rollout, 1,589 new COVID-19 cases reported". CBC. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  28. ^ "'We got it wrong': Ontario apologizes for pausing vaccinations during holidays". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  29. ^ "Ornge head Homer Tien tapped to replace Hillier to lead Ontario vaccine drive". torontosun. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  30. ^ General, Office of the Secretary to the Governor. "The Governor General of Canada". The Governor General of Canada.
  31. ^ "Individuals to be Invested into the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador". www.releases.gov.nl.ca.
  32. ^ Inspector General (25 July 2014). "Wearing Your Medals Wrong". wearingyourmedalswrong.blogspot.ca. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  33. ^ "General Richard "Rick" John Hillier, OC, CMM, OStJ, ONL, MSC, CD Chief of Defence Staff" (PDF).
  34. ^ "Honorary Chair: General (Ret'd) Rick Hillier". The Vimy Foundation. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  35. ^ "Chancellors". Memorial University of Newfoundland. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  36. ^ Bennett, Pete (19 July 2016). "Royal Military College of Canada Honorary Degree Recipients". www.rmc-cmr.ca.
  37. ^ "University of Calgary Honorary Degree Recipients" (PDF). University of Calgary. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  38. ^ "Hillier to receive honourary degree". CTV News Calgary. 10 November 2010. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  39. ^ "Honorary Degrees" (PDF). Memorial University. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  40. ^ "Honorary Degrees" (PDF). Memorial University. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  41. ^ "Lincoln Alexander Outstanding Leader Award Recipients | Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics". www.uoguelph.ca.


External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by Commander Multi-National Division (South-West), Bosnia
Succeeded by
Tony van Diepenbrugge
Preceded by Chief of the Land Staff
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commander, International Security Assistance Force
February 2004 – August 2004
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief of the Defence Staff
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of Memorial University of Newfoundland
Succeeded by
Susan Knight