Military warned of fallout from MacKay chopper ride

James McLeod
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Defence Minister Peter MacKay — File photo

An air force officer warned that Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s ride on a search and rescue (SAR) chopper risked political controversy — and that’s exactly what happened.

Opposition politicians pointed to documents obtained by The Toronto Star under access to information legislation as proof MacKay was using the Cormorant helicopter for inappropriate travel.

In July 2010, MacKay was on vacation at a remote fishing lodge on the Gander River. MacKay said he had to cut his vacation short, and arranged the time with the SAR helicopter as a demonstration of the unit’s capabilities.

“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 cellphone to video the minister getting on board and post it on Youtube, who will be answering the mail on that one?” an officer asked in an email.

“If we are tasked to do this we of course will comply — given the negative press though, I would likely recommend against it, especially in view of the fact that the air force receives (or at least used to) regular (access to information requests) specifically targeting travel on CF aircraft by ministers.”

A spokesman for MacKay said the ride was completely appropriate as a demonstration of the SAR capabilities of the unit.

“Minister MacKay left personal time to return to work early,” the spokesman said. “As has also been stated before, Minister MacKay received a demonstration of the capabilities of our search and rescue technicians.”

The emails obtained by The Toronto Star, though, indicate that initially the request from MacKay’s staff was only about giving the minister a ride.

Only a day after the initial request did officials say the airlift would be under the “guise” of a search-and-rescue training operation.

In the House of Commons Thursday, MacKay was asked to answer about the “guise” from Liberal MP Scott Simms, whose riding takes in Gander.

“What’s also a guise is for the honourable member (Simms), who we know also flew in a Cormorant helicopter on several occasions, to stand up and criticize,” MacKay said.

Simms, speaking to The Telegram, said it was a bogus comparison, because he spent a full day with the Gander unit, seeing what they can do.

“I didn’t use it as a taxi,” he said. “I mean, this was 30 minutes in the air, and this was the part that was supposed to be, you know, let’s see how you guys train.”

“The guys and girls at the base — the SAR techs, the pilots, the flight engineers — God love ’em, because they’re the ultimate heroes and this is the wrong reason for them to be in the news.”

Former NDP defence critic Jack Harris said the only thing that would really count as a search and rescue was the fact that MacKay had to be hoisted into the helicopter because there wasn’t room for the chopper to land.

“You could call that a demonstration of the use of a hoist if you want, but the reality is that this is clearly being done for the convenience of the minister’s transportation,” he said. “This doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Following the flight in the Cormorant helicopter, MacKay got into a government Challenger jet and flew to Ontario to participate in a government announcement.

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: The Toronto Star, House of Commons, The Telegram NDP

Geographic location: Gander River, Gander, Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Yeah right
    December 02, 2011 - 10:13

    I don't know if this guy has enough honor to resign his seat but he should at least be sent to the backbenches. Let him go home to have a cry with his dog.

  • Don II
    December 02, 2011 - 09:02

    I read that an e-mail from the military stated that the Ministers use of a helicopter was under the "Guise" of SAR training. Guise?This revelation calls the Minister's honesty and integrity into question, which would normally lead to a resignation or a firing of a Minister in the old days. Another related issue that has not been adequately addressed is, what was the Minister really doing at that fishing lodge? Was he meeting with lobbyists outside the confines of the scrutiny of Government offices which are watched closely by the media? What was really being discussed by the Minister at that fishing lodge? Did the Minister breach ethics and lobbyist regulations? Was the Minister just fishing with "Friends" on the Gander River? Did the Minister have a valid fishing license in July 2010? What are the names of the other people in attendance at that fishing lodge? What was really going on in July 2010 which caused the Minister to travel to the Gander River? As usual, lots of questions and very few real answers. I have heard rumors to the effect that when the Minister was in charge of ACOA he also used a helicopter to travel to Cupids Newfoundland for a secret meeting. The old saying goes: Where there is smoke there is fire. The Minister must clear the air on this matter and soon.

  • disgusted nfldr
    December 02, 2011 - 08:38

    i guess we are very fortunate that we didnt lose any nfldrs while peter mckay was using this expensive piece of life saving equipment for his personal pleasure. its disgusting and he should have to resign his position of trust because of it. who does he actually think he is. above the law.

  • Dirk
    December 02, 2011 - 08:02

    Whats the bid deal.?..he's the national defense minister! Let him ride in his helicopter...Whats next....auditing his cab rides?...Do you really think the head of the military in any other developed country has to put up with this pettiness...So Canadian.

    • audaxrex
      December 02, 2011 - 18:31

      Do you have any idea what it costs to run a helicopter? This isn't a cab ride, you know. A big one like the Cormorant would start at about $3000/hr basic (as in a hop at the airport with minimun bells and whistles). See I'd like that money spent on something useful, not to provision the minister's refrigerator with expensive salmon.

  • jp
    December 02, 2011 - 07:43

    He's irresponsible for using military resources for his own benefit. Just a simpleton Mr Mackay is.

  • Peggy
    December 02, 2011 - 07:31

    Once the snowball starts rolling, it keeps on getting bigger and bigger, and MacKay's started long before now. Don't any of these politicians think about the hardworking taxpayers who are paying for all the abuse of their money, especially when there is so much poverty in our Country. It's so frustrating and unfair, but the common ordinary working person cannot do a thing about it; complain all we want, but these privileges of politicians will continue, and certainly in more ways than one.

  • DeGonzo
    December 02, 2011 - 07:16

    MacKay doesn't have much credibility anyway. He sold out the last of it on the Reform-Tory party merger where Harper duped him into selling out the real Conservatives to support Reformer Harper. This helicopter ride is just another nail in his coffin; it won't be long before Harper has enough ducks in a row that he can afford to dump MacKay altogether. He's been in Harper's doghouse for quite a while now and Harper will ditch him when the time is right.

  • Moral Corruption
    December 02, 2011 - 07:09

    Is this a sign of Conservative moral corruption?