Retired general Rick Hillier is receiving $20,000 a month to head an Ontario task force that will oversee distribution of new coronavirus vaccines in the province, even though a date for that remains unknown.
Premier Doug Ford announced Hillier’s appointment Monday but by Thursday new questions were being raised about when delivery of a vaccine would take place.
Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott had previously said the province was expecting more than two million doses of vaccine between January and March of 2021. But she retreated from that Thursday, acknowledging she had no guarantee of such deliveries. Elliott blamed the federal government for the confusion.
At his news conference Thursday, Ford said he is going to try to get answers from the federal government about vaccine delivery dates. “We have General Hillier and he wants to make sure he understands exactly when the vaccine is landing on our docks,” he said.
Federal officials, however, reiterated Thursday that vaccines would arrive and be distributed in early 2021.
Hillier is listed as a special advisor to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. He will provide recommendations in support of the plan and related initiatives, according to the order-in-council outlining his duties. Hillier’s appointment was effective Nov. 22 and will run until March 31, 2021. Hillier will receive $20,000 a month plus expenses for his role as chairman of the distribution task force.
Some have questioned why individuals with expertise in medical or hospital administration or logistics weren’t named to head the task force.
Hillier’s task force will advise on the delivery and storage of the vaccines, provide clinical guidance on the administration of the vaccine as well as information and technology for clinicians handling vaccine administration. It will also develop a public education and community outreach program to encourage vaccination.
Hillier said in an interview with CTV’s Power Play that much of the plan has already been developed by health-care professional and administrators working for the province. “This isn’t their first rodeo,” he added.
Stephen Warner, press secretary for the Office of the Solicitor General, stated in an email to this newspaper that,” We are prepared to extend General Hillier’s Order In Council beyond March 2021, should his expertise continue to be necessary.”
Hillier was chief of the defence staff for the Canadian Forces from February 2005 to July 2008 and was seen as the driving force behind the 2006 combat mission to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Many of Canada’s 158 military deaths and 2,000 injuries took place during operations in Kandahar. Hillier was popular among soldiers and his supporters credit his straight-talking manner.
At the height of the Afghanistan war, Hillier suggested the Taliban were on the verge of defeat. Hillier also commanded troops during the 1998 ice storm, which paralyzed much of Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
“Having always believed that ‘duty calls,’ the safe, secure and successful delivery of COVID-19 vaccines is a critical mission I’m honoured to accept for the people of Ontario,” Hillier said in a statement.
Ford said Hillier’s military expertise is critical to the success of the distribution plan.
Hillier met Wednesday with Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance.
But it is unclear what role the Canadian military might play in vaccine distribution. Military sources say personnel could be used to help transport and distribute vaccines to remote communities.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said federal organizations will be involved in vaccine delivery and there could be a role for the Canadian Forces. Private contractors will also be used.
National defence noted in an email that the department and Canadian Forces are supporting the Public Health Agency of Canada in the coordination of a national COVID-19 vaccine strategy but since that was in the planning phase they couldn’t provide any more information.
But military commander Maj. Gen. Trevor Cadieu recently told MPs on the House of Commons defence committee that the Canadian Forces is helping develop a national operations centre which will oversee the distribution of the vaccine.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020