Simms, MP for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls-Windsor, had been publicly criticizing MacKay’s use of the helicopter at the time.
The story of the apparent attempts to dig up dirt on Simms broke in today’s Toronto Star, after that paper obtained a series internal emails about the research.
At 11:45 a.m. on Sept. 22, Major Byron Johnson in Gander emailed three majors, based in Ottawa, to update them on a background search he was apparently conducting on Simms’ interactions with search and rescue.
“Staff continuing search but nothing found thus far placing MP Simms aboard Cormorant,” Johnson wrote. “Will advise if something located.”
A follow up from the same source, sent shortly after noon Sept. 22, begins with two words: “Found it.”
The email went on to state Simms had flown “for almost a whole day” on Jan. 17, 2011.
This prompted a flurry of questions from Ottawa — including who requested the flight and whether or not it was paid for by Simms.
Whereas other emails were copied to multiple individuals, it was instructed this information was to come back only to Johnson.
At 2:35 p.m. Capt. Mike O’Brien at 9 Wing Gander replies to Johnson as instructed.
The flight with Simms, he stated, was to “sensitize Mr. Simms to SAR Ops,” just over five hours was spent, he was not aware of any payments made to the Royal Canadian Air Force.
A later email noted the flight for Simms was directed from the minister’s office — following a press release that had been put out by Simms regarding search and rescue response.
The same day as the emails were flying, Simms was in the House of Commons chastising MacKay about his helicopter flight (read the official transcript here). The subject was raised shortly before noon in Ottawa.
“He feels that he is entitled to use vital life-saving equipment for his own personal limousine, and we would like for him to answer to it,” Simms said.
NDP MP for St. John’s East, Jack Harris, was also in the fray.
“Mr. Speaker, we are all shocked to learn that the Minister of National Defence sees his country's military equipment as his own personal chauffeur service,” he said.
MacKay said his flight was part of a search and rescue demonstration and happened to come following a personal visit with friends on the Gander river.
During a response to Harris, MacKay raised the fact other MPs, including Harris, have participated in search and rescue demonstrations.
“As the member would know, having participated in the parliamentary program with the Canadian Forces, members of Parliament, in fact 20 including himself, took part in search and rescue activities in the past.”
MacKay did not name Simms among them.
The Telegram is following the story.