When word came out Friday that the chief
of the defence staff had racked up a million dollars in expenses using
Challenger jets for vacations and hockey and CFL games, well, something had to be
done. Harper, a fan of those very same Challenger jets, insisted that the use
of those jets must be reimbursed.
But here are a few things to consider.
First of all, there are often good and legitimate uses for said jets.
High-ranking officials have security considerations first of all, and
oftentimes it’s not just the prime minister's or governor general’s safety that
the RCMP has to take into consideration – it’s everyone else’s on the plane.
For someone like the chief of defence staff, it’s also a matter of
accessibility. He has a very packed schedule, and he needs to be able to go to
and leave a lot of places at a moment’s notice, be it for the repatriation of a
fallen soldier or an emergency briefing. Fair enough. Oh, and hockey and CFL
games? He’s usually meeting with military families, and the Canadian Forces are
big on using sporting events as major recruitment grounds, and we are always
talking about how we’re facing recruitment shortfalls, right? Just
And while this is all well and good, it’s
a little rich for Harper to give lectures about “repaying” the cost of personal flights.
Sure, he does it when he takes the Challenger off to a big game in order to be
seen. But Harper is notorious for paying back an economy fare, and the kind of
economy fare you'd pay if you booked the trip weeks in advance and not at the last
minute. It’s a pittance, and it’s actually kind of insulting to the taxpayers
that he so fetishizes. On Power &
Politics last night, John McCallum talked about the Paul Martin days, when cabinet ministers or the CDS had to prove there wasn’t a commercial flight available when they wanted to take a Challenger, and they also had to
make all their expenditures public. Harper and his cabinet haven’t been fans of doing
that (and not with their hospitality budgets, either, for that matter); they have tended to
hide most of those expenses in department budgets rather than ministerial ones,
which are more readily available. (Remember when Jean-Pierre Blackburn was
caught hiding all of those chartered flights in his department budget? And how
all of those other ministers mysteriously have hospitality budgets of zero?
Yeah, it’s a pretty common occurrence). Do you know what else Paul Martin did?
When he went on a family vacation to Morocco and the RCMP insisted he take the
Challenger, he took the most expensive commercial rate, doubled it, and
repaid that amount to the public purse – none of this cheapest economy fare nonsense.
If Harper is really going to be serious about
“cracking down” on the use of Challenger jets, then perhaps he’d better take a
good look in the mirror first and give a more honest accounting of his own
travel practices. It’s all well and good to be on a moral crusade for the
taxpayers' benefit, but at the very least he should be honest about his own
dubious practices and maybe commit to doing more than paying a token economy
fare the next time he feels the need to be seen at a hockey game.