PM says he hasn't discussed ousting Hillier as top soldier

Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada's chief of defence staff, was praised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday following reports that he might lose his job.

Defence minister, too, expresses confidence in army general

Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada's chief of defence staff,was praised byhis boss on Wednesday following reports that he might lose his job.

Gen. Rick Hillier speaks at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa on Wednesday. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

Prime Minister Stephen Harper calledHillier an outstanding soldier and said hehas been involved in no talks aboutreplacingthe army generalas Canada'ssenior military commander.

"The only thing true in these stories that I've seen today is that the prime minister does in factappoint and designate the person who will be the chief of defence staff," Harper told reporters in Ottawa.

"That much is true.

"That said, the chief of defence staff isnot appointed for a fixed term of office — not appointed for three years, as some reports have said.

"There has been no discussion in my office, or with me, with any senior officials, about the possibility of changing the chief of defence staff, and a matter of fact, I think I just approved a pretty good rating for the chief of the defence staff.

"I thinkhe's an outstanding soldier who's bringing strong leadership to the Canadian Forces."

Earlier in the day, Hillier saidhe's not finished his work as defence chief and has been given no indication the government plans to replace him.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, he said he feels he has the support ofHarper'sConservative government and a very good relationship with Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

"I serve at the pleasure of the prime minister … and as far as I know, the prime minister is still pleased,"Hillier said. "I don't know why this report's out."

The general dismissed speculation thathe was looking for a job in the private sector withajoke that hewas "looking to become a golf pro."

"I love being a soldier,"Hillier said. "I still have things to do here in the immediate future, and I intend to do them."

Earlier Wednesday, MacKay dismisseda media report that the Conservatives plan topush Hillier out.

"We're at war with respect to terrorism, and Gen. Hillier has been showing tremendous leadership and we have great confidence in his abilities," MacKay told reporters in Halifax.

"This speculation that's out there is really just that. There is no basis to this discussion right now."

'We got along very, very well,' Hillier says of O'Connor

MacKay's comments followed a CTV News report that said Hillier would be replaced because he irked the government by outshining his political masters and undermining former defence minister Gordon O'Connor.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuffled O'Connor out of the defence portfolio in August following a stormy tenure marked by O'Connor's awkward handling of the Afghan detainee affair, which made him a favourite target of opposition criticsduring question period.

When the armed forces held a private farewell ceremony for O'Connor in Ottawa on Tuesday, Hillier showed up late. Butthe generalsaid the report that his lateness was a calculated snubwas "negative spin" on a "positive day."

"We got caught up in something in the last minute and I was late,"Hillier said. "We get along very, very well."

Hillierhas held the job of chief of defence staff since 2005. The role doesn't have a defined length, but the average tenure is three to five years.

The Newfoundland-born Hillieris viewed as highly popular among the rank-and-file of Canada's military. His ownmilitary career has spanned three decades since he joined the armyright aftergraduating from Memorial University.

Prior to being named chief of defence staff, he was the head of the army and alsocommanded the NATO-led multinational Afghanistan mission in 2004.

With files from the Canadian Press