Top soldier open to repaying Caribbean vacation flight
Canada's top soldier says he will pay the ticket cost of a VIP flight he took to join his family on vacation in St. Maarten if the Prime Minister's Office deems it necessary, but as far as he is concerned his actions were above board.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk spoke to reporters on Monday in Ottawa, after a CTV report last week revealed that the senior military leader has incurred hefty travel costs in recent years.
Natynczyk defended his actions saying he has a "relentless" schedule and always attempts to fly in as efficient a manner as possible, whether that be via helicopter, Challenger, commercial flight or military transport.
However, he said his office travels with him, and often it makes most sense to take a Challenger, which are required to fly a certain number of hours in order for their crew to achieve "proficiency" status.
However, he conceded that it may have been wiser for him to pay for the cost of his trip to St. Maarten up front, then submit the receipt for reimbursement.
Natynczyk had missed his scheduled vacation charter flight in order to attend a repatriation ceremony for several fallen soldiers.
He then took a military flight to catch up with his family, at a cost of almost $93,000 for the return flight.
He said the Treasury Board has a policy in place for occasions when scheduled leave is disrupted or cancelled, and he was advised he was within his rights to take the military flight.
"But again as the prime minister has indicated, his office is going to look at the detail and...if the interpretation is incorrect and I have to pay for the ticket then I'll do that but from my standpoint all the travel I do is commensurate with my responsibility as chief of defence staff."
Natynczyk also defended his flights to events such as NHL games and the Calgary Stampede, saying those trips fit with his duty to "connect with Canadians."
He said he wasn't all that bothered by the recent criticism that has emerged over his travel expenses.
"I've been shot at in Sarajevo, I've been shot at in Baghdad, I've got some pretty tough skin right now and I continue to serve," he said.
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.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week government staff are expected to reimburse Ottawa for the costs of any personal travel they undertake using Crown-owned aircraft.
Harper made his views on VIP travel known on Friday when reporters questioned him about the more than $1 million in travel costs that Natynczyk has incurred while flying on government aircraft since 2008.
Harper said 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.
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 needed."