Harper defends Peter MacKay's helicopter use
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is standing behind his defence minister's use of a military helicopter for transportation from a Newfoundland fishing camp last year.
"The minister was called back from vacation and used a government aircraft only for government business," Harper said Friday, at a news conference in Burlington, Ont.
MacKay has said that he used the helicopter as part of a search-and-rescue exercise in July 2010, but recently-released Defence Department emails suggest otherwise.
Military emails indicate personnel were told the "mission will be under the guise … of SAR (search and rescue) training."
Opposition MPs are calling on MacKay to apologize -- or even resign -- for his use of the helicopter.
"Either the minister is saying the military is lying or he's misleading this house," Rosane Dore Lefebvre, an NDP MP from Quebec, told the House of Commons.
Documents show crews hoisted MacKay from the fishing camp and then flew him to an airport in Gander, N.L. From there, he took a Challenger jet to the announcement of an armoured vehicle contract in London, Ont.
Later on, MacKay used the same jet to fly to a lobster festival in his Nova Scotia riding where he was proclaimed a "lobster-banding champion."
The total cost of the flights is estimated to be $153,000, an expenditure that Deputy Liberal Leader Ralph Goodale has called a waste.
In the released Defence Department email thread, officials express concern about picking MacKay up from the private fishing lodge.
The emails show respondents scrambling to accommodate the request. In one missive, a colonel suggests the entire trip could be a 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… who will be answering the mail on that one :) .." the email asks.
MacKay was not in the House of Commons to answer questions on Friday and House Leader Peter Van Loan has reiterated Harper's "government business stance."
Meanwhile, the entire debacle has inspired an Ottawa restaurant owner, whose eatery is popular with defense staffers, to offer free helicopter parking to MPs.
An Ottawa restaurant popular with defence department staffers has put out a sign allowing MPs to park their helicopters for free.
"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.
With a report from CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife