Peter MacKay says no helicopter 'retasked' to fly him
Defence Minister Peter MacKay says it's not true that a search and rescue helicopter was retasked to pick him up at a fishing resort and drop him off at a Gander, N.L., airport in 2010.
Facing renewed questions in the House of Commons Monday, MacKay repeated his assertion that he left a vacation to go to work. Emails released last week show MacKay's staff requested the helicopter flight to get him to the airport in Gander faster than the two hours it would have taken to travel by boat and car.
"Any suggestion that there was a retasking or a diversion of search and rescue aircraft from their actual tasking is simply untrue," MacKay said.
But he avoided answering questions about whether he misled the House when he said in September that he was on a Cormorant helicopter on July 9, 2010, to see a search and rescue demonstration.
Emails released last week under federal access to information laws show that MacKay was the subject of the demonstration when the helicopter crew hoisted him off the ground because a small landing area made it too dangerous to land the chopper at the fishing resort.
His office confirmed that was the demonstration he observed, which took about 15 minutes for the hoist and 10 minutes for the flight to the airport.
"We all know there was no planned exercise," NDP MP David Christopherson said in question period. "And if the minister's got documentation to the contrary, table it this afternoon. And in the absence of that documentation, stand in his place and do the honourable thing, the right thing. Apologize to Canadians and their Parliament."
MacKay said last September that he was on the helicopter for a long-delayed demonstration of Canada's search and rescue abilities. His office said it was the first time he was able to participate.
One of the emails raised concerns about onlookers posting video of the lift to YouTube, and said the air force received regular access-to-information requests about ministerial travel on Canadian Forces aircraft. Another said the flight would be "under the guise" of search and rescue training.
The emails also say MacKay had already been on a Cormorant in the area of the fishing resort.
While defence officials were concerned the chopper wouldn't be able to land because the clearing was too small, one of the emails says MacKay's staff replied that he had already seen a landing in that area. The pilot who managed it had since been posted to the West Coast.
"I am told by [MacKay]'s staff that last year [MacKay] was flying near this location, and the pilot landed there (at a spot near the shore, perhaps a short distance away)," said an email from Col. Frances Allen.
"That being said, apparently that pilot has now been posted from Gander to Comox, so he is no longer at your [squadron], so he can't help pinpoint the location."
The search and rescue team had to fly a reconnaissance mission over the fishing resort before they were due to pick up MacKay to determine where the hoist would happen.
The emails note MacKay and his staff are clear that search and rescue is the priority for the helicopters.
"It is completely understood that this is a second priority to any [search and rescue] mission," Allen wrote in one email.