Tories to retire private jets; will VIPs start flying coach?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Don't be surprised if you see one of Canada's top military officials sitting next you on an airplane in the very near future.

Government sources have told  CTV News that the Harper government will be taking four of its six Challenger aircraft — used to shuttle military staff and government officials around the country —out of commission.

"The fleet reduction is part of ongoing Conservative efforts to cut spending and balance the books over the next few years," notes the report.

"A number of the six CC-144 Challenger twin-engine jets will come to the end of their lifespan in 2014 ... the government is not waiting until then to get rid of them."

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The jets have seen their share of controversies over the past several years.

During the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MP James Moore used one of the jets to fly from Ottawa to Vancouver to watch the Canucks lose to the Bruins.

Last year, it was learned that Canada's former Chief of Defence Staff General Walt Natynczyk spent more than $1 million since 2008 flying on the Challenger aircraft as an alternative to commercial flights. He even once used the plane to get to a family vacation.

As you might imagine, there are really no objections to this cost-saving measure. Even the opposition aren't opposing.

"This is obviously a good idea," NDP defence critic Jack Harris told Yahoo! Canada News.

"We had situations a year ago when the government was criticized for using them too much to go to sporting events, for various trips.  One of the stories that came out was the fact that the government was flying these things around because they had to keep the pilots getting their hours in order to keep them in place to be able to operate them. I think this is a good move."

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Gregory Thomas, the national director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says this is a case of the Harper government leading by example.

"[The government has] cut their use of government VIP jets by something like 80 per cent since they took office," he told Yahoo!.

"Canada's Foreign Minister flies on [commercial] flights. It's tough to imagine Hillary Clinton squished into an economy seat to London or Paris, but John Baird does it all the time. So if they're not using the VIP jets, they should sell them, provided they get a fair price and we don't end up buying a newer model for ten times more two years from now."

Postmedia News suggests that the vetting of the jets could signal deeper spending cuts within the Department of National Defence.

The aircraft will either be sold, scrapped, or lent to another department.