Stephen Harper's jet gets red, white and blue makeover

The Canadian Forces jet that Prime Minister Stephen Harper uses to travel abroad is now painted in red, white and blue rather than military grey and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says it looks a little too much like a Conservative Party plane.

New paint job cost taxpayers $50,000

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plane has received a fresh look due to a $50,000 paint job just in time for his trip to Europe next week. The Prime Minister's Office has for years wrestled with the Defence Department over the colours of the plane. (JetPhotos.net)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is blurring the lines between government money and party money with the new paint job on his plane, according to NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

The military Airbus jet that the prime minister travels abroad on got a controversial makeover that Mulcair said is "patterned on the Conservative Party." 

A photo of the newly painted plane is on the Department of National Defence's website. Harper will be flying on the now red, white and blue plane when he takes off for Europe on Tuesday. The jet used to be a drab grey colour.

The prime minister's Canadian Forces Airbus CC-150 Polaris for years has been painted a drab grey according to military rules, along with the official Canada markings. (Chris Wattie/Canadian Press)

The plane, a CC-150 Polaris, got the paint job as part of the maintenance it undergoes every six years. The new design cost an extra $50,000 according to Harper's director of communications, Andrew MacDougall.

The government says the new design includes Canada's symbols – the flag, the coat of arms and the Royal Canadian Air Force logo – and builds on Canada's history.

But Mulcair isn't impressed. "I don't think we've ever seen a government in Canadian history that so readily blurred the lines between government money and party money," he told reporters at a press conference he held to talk about Harper's trip to Europe.

"The colours of the plane, the whole detailing is clearly patterned on the Conservative Party," said Mulcair. "I can tell you this, that when we form government in 2015 we will not be painting that plane orange."

The Prime Minister's Office started asking for the more colourful paint job back in 2009 and the requests were repeatedly rebuffed by Defence Minister Peter MacKay and his department. In emails obtained by The Canadian Press, MacKay makes it clear that he thinks the plane should stay grey. He says that is the appropriate colour scheme given that the plane is a military plane that transports personnel and equipment into operational areas.

The decision "to have an Airbus permanently configured for VIP use in a colour other than the standard grey would have an impact both financially and on operations, as essentially it would leave you with one less air resource," one military officer wrote about the plane in an email.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications, Andrew MacDougall, said the new paint job on Harper's plane resembles the Snowbirds planes. (Rion Sanders/Canadian Press)

Despite the objections from DND, Harper's office persisted, and after four years, won the paint job battle.

NDP MP Pat Martin asked in question period how Conservative MPs feel defending the use of taxpayer money to "play Pimp My Ride with the prime minister's flying Taj Mahal." The prime minister's plane was dubbed the flying Taj Mahal years ago, before Harper took power.

Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister, said the NDP opposes the government "every time we start to do anything good for Canada." He said the plane carries Canadian symbols and he doesn't understand why the NDP has a problem with it.

On Twitter, MacDougall also defended the plane's makeover, suggesting that it resembles the planes used by the Snowbirds, the Canadian Forces flight demonstration team. They are also painted in red, white and blue.

MacKay's office provided a statement saying the paint job price tag is "modest," just two per cent of the overall total maintenance cost, and pointed to DND's website that has photos of previous planes used throughout the years that were also painted in red, white and blue.

The VIP plane is also used by Gov. Gen. David Johnston and members of the Royal Family when they visit.


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.