Top soldier won't apologize, repay for VIP flights
Published Sunday, September 18, 2011 10:12PM EDT
Canada's top soldier says he sees no reason to reimburse taxpayers for spending more than $1 million on personal flights using VIP government aircrafts.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk defended his use of the air force's Challenger jets on Sunday, saying he wouldn't apologize for using Crown-owned aircraft to go to sporting events, fundraising dinners and to join his family on vacation in the Caribbean.
"I've been very transparent. I've been very ethical throughout my entire 36 years of service," he told CTV's Question Period.
CTV News obtained documents indicating that Natynczyk spent more than $1 million flying on jets since 2008. His trips included NHL and CFL games as well as fundraising galas and dinners in major Canadian cities.
Natynczyk said all the flights he took were already scheduled and prepaid. He said the jets would have flown around empty even if he wasn't aboard.
"The problem is the aircraft are not being used enough," he said. "The aircraft are flying around empty because we have to maintain the proficiency of the pilots and indeed the crew."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the issue of personal travel on Friday, saying that government staff should reimburse Ottawa for the costs of any personal trips they take in Crown-owned aircraft.
"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.
NDP MP Pat Martin said Sunday while he has no interest in trying to "nickel and dime" the head of the armed forces over his travel budget, all non-combat military operations should fall under the same level of oversight as other public service sectors.
Natynczyk's travel budget should also be subject to the same belt-tightening asked of other government departments.
"Nothing that the general says can really justify spending $100,000 to go to drop a puck at a hockey game," Martin told CTV News Channel in an interview from Ottawa.
"The general's budget, frankly the budget line for the military, has been ballooning in recent years, and it just seems to be that some of their spending must be getting a little bit cavalier for an alarm not to go off, or a bell not to go off, to say this can't be explained satisfactorily to the Canadian people."
Unlike the prime minister and the governor general, the chief of the defence staff is not required to fly on a Challenger jet for security reasons.
But Natynczyk said he's unapologetic for the fees incurred during his time in the air.
"I'm the commander of the Canadian Forces and I have a responsibility to go out and see the 9,000-plus men and women in uniform who serve coast to coast to coast," he said.
The top military commander said he has no plans to resign over the report and sees no reason to reimburse taxpayers.
When the report was released in mid-September, Natynczyk's office responded saying he usually works with his command team while flying in a Challenger to ensure a secure communication link while in the air.