Defence Minister Peter MacKay's use of a search and rescue helicopter is akin to the province's constituency allowance spending scandal, Premier Kathy Dunderdale said Friday.
Dunderdale was reticent to comment on the controversy, except to say public officials need to be careful when it comes to using the taxpayers' resources.
"We learned very hard lessons here in this province about the appropriate use of government resources. It's not a lesson that I'm going to forget," she said. "It should serve as a good reminder to everybody else who does this kind of work that the resources that are here that belong to the people need to be treated appropriately."
Gander River ride
Documents obtained by The Toronto Star indicate that when MacKay was on vacation at a fishing lodge on the Gander River, he hitched a ride in a Cormorant search and rescue helicopter out of Gander.
When the story broke in September, MacKay said the ride was a demonstration of the unit's search and rescue capabilities.
However, a string of emails obtained by the Star seem to indicate the ride was primarily about convenience, and the "guise" of a search and rescue training mission was only established after the initial request was made.
NDP MP Ryan Cleary said MacKay was using the helicopters as "a taxi and a limousine."
Cleary called on MacKay to resign.
"It looks like he lied about it. That's how it looks," said Cleary, who represents St. John's South-Mount Pearl. "I think he has to resign."
Late Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in, defending MacKay.
Harper says "all use of government aircraft was for government business."
The prime minister said MacKay has already answered the questions and has been clear about it, as has his government.
Opposition members of Parliament have been hammering MacKay over the helicopter flight and demanding an apology.
But the government is fending off the attacks by saying it has slashed the use of government aircraft by cabinet ministers.
"I think the minister's been very clear and we've been very clear," Harper said at an event in Burlington, Ont., west of Toronto, where he visited a biotech firm and helped open an arts centre.
"The minister was called back from vacation and used government aircraft only for government business and that is appropriate," Harper said.
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