Monday, January 28, 2013

"Helicopter Pete" you had 11 days to get there you could have taken a canoe!

"Jump Pete Jump taxpayers can't afford you any longer!"

DND emails reveal new questions aver Peter MacKay's Comorant helicopter ride to news conference

Scheduled to attend: Defence Minister Peter MacKay and PUblic Works Minister Rona Ambrose

Lee Berthiaume
Postmedia News
Monday, January 28,2013

OTTAWA — Government officials didn’t want to hold the Ontario media event that prompted Defence Minister Peter MacKay to catch a private ride on a search-and-rescue helicopter from a fishing trip in Newfoundland two years ago.

Internal emails obtained by Postmedia News also raise questions over government assertions that MacKay’s attendance at the news conference in London, Ontario was confirmed only a few days before the event took place.

MacKay has been under fire since it was first revealed that a Cormorant helicopter was called in to pick him up from a private fishing camp and ferry him to Gander airport in July 2010 — at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $16,000.

Critics called for his resignation after accusing him of using military assets for personal reasons when other modes of transportation were available, and then misleading Parliament about the issue.

The new documents will do nothing to quell the controversy, which originates with a decision the minority Harper government made in July 2009 to award a sole-source contract to a defence company in London, Ontario to upgrade the Canadian army’s fleet of light armoured vehicles for more than $1 billion.

MacKay and then-Canadian army commander Andrew Leslie made the announcement at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick as part of a broader $5-billion plan to purchase new vehicles and upgrade existing ones for the army after Afghanistan.

In March 2010, the London-based company was about to receive a small $34-million contract as part of that larger $1-billion upgrade.

Government officials initially recommended against the news conference in London, saying it was unnecessary. Instead, they suggested simply issuing a press release.

“For your info,” a National Defence communications adviser wrote to her Public Works counterpart on March 18, 2010, “the recommendation I passed along here was not to do an event. I believe the ‘announceable’ at this time is that the project is progressing as per the plan, which would not warrant an event.”

“Understood,” the Public Works official replied. “I am recommending a news release only.”

It’s unclear who decided to organize a news conference at the London company’s plant despite these views, or when the decision was made, but the documents show the date of the event was moved twice for unknown reasons — once in April 2010 and again in May 2010.

MacKay as well as Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, who is responsible for all federal government purchasing, were scheduled to attend both previous events.

Then on June 25, 2010, the Privy Council Office, the department that provides direct support to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and cabinet, notified Public Works the event was confirmed for July 9, 2010.
The emails show Defence officials were notified on June 28, 2010.

At that point, they began preparing talking points and communications products that were sent to MacKay’s office for approval.

In addition, while the main planning document for the news conference listed local Conservative MPs Joe Preston and Ed Holder as “TBC,” or to be confirmed, there is no such designation for MacKay or Ambrose.

Eleven days later, MacKay was hoisted from the ground to a waiting Cormorant before being taken to the Gander Airport where he caught a waiting Challenger jet to London.

After the news conference in London, MacKay used the Challenger to fly to his riding in Nova Scotia to attend a lobster dinner.

The total cost of the helicopter pick up was estimated at $16,000, while the Challenger flights were estimated at about $25,000.

News of the private pickup and Challenger flights were first revealed in September 2011, prompting outrage from opposition parties and members of the public.

MacKay’s director of communications, Jay Paxton, said in an email that the news conference “was important to inform Londoners and Canadians of this work during a fragile economic recovery.”

Paxton also maintained Friday the minister’s attendance at the news conference was only confirmed a few days before the event was to take place.

“Clearly Minister MacKay has many scheduling interests that are always being juggled by staff,” Paxton said, “and he was confirmed for the announcement sometime between July 5th and July 8th.”

Liberal Defence critic John McKay said the news conference was unnecessary and simply an attempt by the Harper government to bolster its reputation.

“It appears you can never re-announce often enough,” he said, noting the Harper government has held other press conferences to re-announce a project or program. “These guys have taken this to new heights.”

McKay was also skeptical that MacKay was only confirmed for the news conference a few days when National Defence knew it was going ahead more than a week beforehand.

“He could have taken a canoe,” McKay said. “He had 11 days between when his office knew about it and when he was scheduled to make the announcement. To suggest now that he didn’t know about it is stretching credibility beyond its breaking point.”

“It’s further confirmation that there was plenty of time to make alternate arrangements,” NDP defence critic Jack Harris said of the emails.

“The minister certainly claimed all along that this was something unexpected and that this had to be done to meet this unexpected request. Clearly it was not unexpected, it was planned.”

The government has previously offered a variety of explanations for the helicopter picking MacKay up from the private fishing camp called Burnt Rattle.

In addition to saying the minister’s presence in London was confirmed only at the last minute. MacKay has previously said he was participating in a pre-planned search-and-rescue demonstration.

Other Defence Department emails, however, have indicated the demonstration was a “guise” designed to protect the minister from embarrassment should the pickup be discovered.

Those documents showed the minister could have also taken a two-hour boat and car ride to get to the airport in Gander.

Other emails show that one day after a TV report that MacKay had used a Cormorant helicopter to be taken from a private fishing lodge near Gander, Newfoundland-Labrador military officials began searching for instances of opposition members using military aircraft.

The officials were particularly interested in a flight Liberal MP Scott Simms took in the same area in January 2011.

MacKay used the information to hit back at Simms in the House of Commons in the following days and weeks, even though the emails show MacKay’s office ordered the Jan. 17, 2011 flight to educate Simms about the military’s search-and-rescue capabilities.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home