MPs demand MacKay apology for helicopter use
Published Friday, December 2, 2011 9:35PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 6:44AM EDT
Defence Minister Peter MacKay continues to come under fire for his use of a military helicopter to pick him up from a fishing camp in Newfoundland last year.
New Democrat and Liberal MPs are demanding an apology from MacKay, but the Conservatives have responded by saying they have cut the use of government aircraft by cabinet ministers.
On Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was forced to again defend MacKay at a press conference in Burlington, Ont.
"I think the minister's been very clear, and we've been very clear: the minister was called back from vacation and used a government aircraft only for government purposes."
MacKay has long argued that he used the helicopter as part of a planned search-and-rescue exercise in July 2010, but recently released Defence Department emails suggest the minister was retrieved under the "guise" of a training mission.
The documents show that crews picked up MacKay from the fishing camp and took him to a nearby airport in Gander, N.L. He then took a Challenger jet to the announcement of an armoured vehicle contract in London, Ont., and flew back in the same jet to a lobster festival in his riding in Nova Scotia -- where he was proclaimed the lobster banding champion.
The total cost of the flights is pegged at $153,000.
"It's a complete contradiction of everything the minister had been saying," CTV's Chief Political Correspondent Craig Oliver said Friday. "These documents are devastating in terms of the story (MacKay) put out."
MacKay wasn't in the House of Commons Friday morning for question period. House Leader Peter Van Loan brushed off questions on the matter, saying they were already answered.
The Department of National Defence emails -- released under an access-to-information request -- show officials scrambling to accommodate MacKay's request to be picked up at a private fishing lodge at the end of a vacation.
Some officials also expressed concern that the Cormorant chopper should be kept available in case of a real rescue mission.
In one email, a colonel suggested that the operation to pickup MacKay could be a serious public relations issue.
"So, when the guy who's fishing at the fishing hole next to the minister sees the big yellow helicopter arrive and decides to use his cell phone to video the minister getting on board and post it on Youtube, who will be answering the mail on that one :) .." the email asks.
Opposition MPs likened MacKay's use of the helicopter to using an ambulance or a fire truck as a taxi.
The scandal has inspired one Ottawa-area restaurateur -- whose eatery is popular with defence staffers -- to offer free helicopter parking to all MPs.
"Everyone has been talking about it. Almost everyone who came in here have had an opinion on it," said Rick Boland, owner of The Foolish Chicken.