Defence Minister Peter MacKay defended his use of a federal military search and rescue helicopter, saying it was for work, rather than for personal use while vacationing in central Newfoundland.

Speaking during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday, MacKay said that he was on one of the three military choppers based in Gander, central Newfoundland, during the summer of 2010 but it was for work, not pleasure..

"I was in fact in Gander in July of 2010 on a personal visit with friends that I paid for. Three days into the visit I participated in a search and rescue demonstration with 103 squadron 9 Wing Gander. I shortened my stay by a day to take part in that demonstration," he said.

MacKay was responding to questions from opposition MPs. NDP defence critic Jack Harris accused MacKay of using military equipment as "his personal chauffeur service."

"The Minister of Defence used a helicopter that should be on standby for search and rescue to pick him up for a personal fishing trip. This helicopter was ordered on the day, from his office in Ottawa," Harris asked. "How can this minister possibly justify such an inappropriate use of public funds?"

'The federal government needs to wake up' —NL Liberal Party Leader Kevin Aylward

CTV reported Wednesday that a source complained MacKay had used a military helicopter for personal use.

Harris wasn't satisfied with MacKay's explanation.

"Being picked up at a cost of $16,000 from a fishing camp is not the way you learn how search and rescue helicopters operate," he said.

Provincial politician reacts

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the province’s Liberal Party leader also reacted with outrage to the report that MacKay used a military helicopter to return from a vacation.

"The federal government needs to wake up. It just needs to wake up. The newly re-elected government has to wake up to Newfoundland and Labrador's issues. We're going to make them wake up when we form a government on Oct. 11," said Kevin Aylward, while campaigning in western Newfoundland Thursday morning.

Aylward said he doesn't want to think of what could have happened if a real emergency had occurred while MacKay was using the chopper.

MacKay deflected that criticism in the House.

"Had any emergency requirement arisen that would have required search and rescue assets it would of course immediately have been diverted," said MacKay.

He also said members of the opposition have taken part in military helicopter demonstrations in the past as well.