Harper calls for reimbursement on personal flights
Published Friday, September 16, 2011 10:05PM EDT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says government staff are expected to reimburse Ottawa for the costs of any personal travel they undertake using Crown-owned aircraft, after a CTV report revealed that a senior military leader has incurred hefty travel costs in recent years.
Harper made his views on VIP travel known on Friday when reporters questioned him about the more than $1 million in travel costs that Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk has incurred while flying on government aircraft since 2008.
CTV obtained government documents showing that Natynczyk flew on Crown-owned aircraft to attend NHL and CFL games, as well as fundraising dinners and galas in major Canadian cities.
Documents also show that Natynczyk used a military flight to join family members in St. Maarten in January, 2010. The return flight cost almost $93,000.
Natynczyk took the military flight because he missed a vacation charter after attending a repatriation ceremony, CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported.
Harper said Friday his government has "dramatically cut the use of government aircraft," but when it is occasionally used for personal travel, he and his fellow government members are expected to pay their fair share.
"When they are used for personal or private travel, we expect that travel at commercial rates to be reimbursed to taxpayers," said Harper, speaking to reporters in Saskatoon.
"That's what I do and I think that's protocol that should be expected across government."
Harper said that while the RCMP "insists" that he use government transportation at all times for security reasons, this is not a requirement for cabinet ministers.
"Cabinet members only use a government aircraft when it is required. When they are required to travel and commercial options are not feasible, are not available for them," Harper said.
Natynczyk was unavailable to comment to CTV after the report aired on Thursday night, but a spokesperson said in a written statement that it was "important to note that (Natynczyk) attends official Canadian Forces Appreciation events and official ceremonies on behalf of the Canadian Forces."
His spokesperson also said Natynczyk "makes every effort to use commercial flights whenever available and where his official travel schedule permits."
But the spokesperson said that "commercial travel often doesn't provide the flexibility (he) needed."
While Natynczyk essentially has the same status as deputy ministers, the fact that he runs the military makes him a special case, said David Bercuson, a military historian and professor at the University of Calgary.
"He's got to be able to respond to crisis situations," Bercuson told Power Play on Friday, adding that since Natynczyk is a high-ranking military official, he also needs security.
"That makes it a little more complicated than if he was a deputy minister."
Additionally, part of Natynczyk's job is to promote the military and ensure that recruitment remains sufficient, and that can mean making public appearances at events like hockey and football games.
"I think we can't use hard and fast rules with a person who is the chief of defence staff," Bercuson said.
Still, NDP MP Pat Martin said that all officials in Ottawa should be leading by example, especially in time of austerity.
"It's belt-tightening time," Martin said. "Here we have the general, did he not get the memo that we're broke?"