Of the five men who led the Canadian Armed Forces during my time in uniform, Rick Hillier was by far my least favourite.
He was, and still is, a snarky, self-serving, and arrogant opportunist who uses what little Newfoundland charm he possesses to stoke the fires of militarism and make the case for war.
As chief of the defence staff from 2005 to 2008, he was the country’s principal cheerleader for the ultimately disastrous conflict in Afghanistan.
Buoyed by a groundswell of public support he helped engineer via the CAF’s “Op Connection,” Hillier headed a three-year public relations blitz that dangerously expanded the military’s influence in Canadian society.
“We are not the Public Service of Canada,” he said with American-style bravado in 2005. “We are not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people.”
And kill we did, albeit without accomplishing much.
Murder and misery continue to haunt Afghanistan, possibly more than before NATO ever set foot in the country.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, more than 24 million Afghans are in need of vital humanitarian relief. The situation has become so dire that some parents are selling their own kidneys to feed their families. No wonder Afghanistan was just named the unhappiest country in the world.
Despite the west’s tragic failure in that conflict, Hillier is banging his blood-spattered drum for greater commitment to NATO, and a reckless response to Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine.
He has repeatedly called for the imposition of a no-fly zone, despite such a move being widely condemned by military observers as the potential trigger for a Third World War.
He’s also demanding the federal government buy bigger, deadlier weapons systems for Ukraine, even though a researcher for a leading Canadian peace institute is concerned about what will happen to the weapons Canada has already sent.
Writing in today’s National Post, Hillier argues for the provision of “Javelin anti-tank missile systems, NLAWs (Next-generation Light Anti-tank Weapons), Stinger air-defence systems, Patriot missile systems, artillery and precision ammunition to strike targets far away, every time.”
Never one to let a good crisis go to waste, he also takes the opportunity to promote a massive increase in Canadian defence spending — and does so with a rather jingoistic flourish.
“Get to the two per cent NATO goal for defence spending and give clear directions to ministers, deputy ministers and the chief of defence staff that procurement will happen, with the overwhelming goal of getting what our sons and daughters in uniform need to help make us a nation that changes the world,” he writes.
Like many retired generals, Hillier has been monetizing his military experience and contacts.
He was hired last year by an Ottawa defence firm that produces battlefield technology, even though he was already raking in a reported $20,000 a month to (mis)handle Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
This and any other potential conflict of interest should be clearly indicated whenever Hillier makes a media appearance to push his hawkish agenda. But I have yet to see that happen.
If Canada ever does become “a nation that changes the world,” I hope we do it at the behest of better people than Hillier, and by other means than war.