Military investigates critics to help MacKay with helicopter trip damage control: reports

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Deny, evade, deflect.

That continues to be Defence Minister Peter MacKay's mantra when it comes to criticism over allegations he used a military search and rescue helicopter for personal use back in July 2010.

You'll recall, when the story first broke in September, MacKay said having a Cormorant helicopter pick him up from a fishing camp was not a misuse of taxpayer dollars. Then in December, the Toronto Star obtained documents that showed some National Defence staff predicted the trip could be perceived badly,  with one suggesting the pick-up was only to be under the "guise" of a search-and-rescue exercise.

MacKay's response to that was to evade the issue by threatening legal action against any MP who continued to accuse him of lying about the 30-minute trip that cost taxpayers $16,000.

And now, it appears MacKay was also trying to deflect criticism onto other MPs.

According to emails uncovered by the Toronto Star, just one day after  revelations of MacKay's trip, Royal Canadian Air Force staff were enlisted to look through flight logs to find similar actions by opposition members—apparently in a bid to blunt criticism of the minister. The emails indicate the officers took time out of their regular duties to do a search about Newfoundland Liberal MP Scott Simms who had been been publicly critical of the heli-transport.

In an initial email, posted online by the Star, Maj. Byron Johnson wrote: "Staff continuing search, but nothing found thus far placing MP Simms aboard Cormorant. Will advise if something located."

By noon that day, the air force officials hit the 'jackpot.'

"Found it. Jan. 17, 2011, he [Simms] flew with the Standby crew for almost the whole day," wrote Maj. Byron Johnson in an email to Royal Canadian Air Force headquarters in Ottawa. "Fax is on the way."

According to the Star, MacKay used the information uncovered by air force personnel the next day during a heated debate in question period.

In a blog last December, the National Post's Kelly McParland noted that  MacKay has adopted the tried and true Stephen Harper government approach: "Never, ever admit a mistake."

"If MacKay had come clean right away and trusted Canadians to judge for themselves [Who cares if the defence minister gets a ride on a Cormorant?], the issue probably would have died a quick death."

Instead, the story continues.