To use the Forces for partisan purposes is worse than misusing a military helicopter.
The tradition of keeping the Forces separate from politics is critical to Canadian democracy -- it is one of the things that makes us different from, say. Egypt and Syria.
Peter MacKay should be asked to resign.
OTTAWA—Military personnel were asked to dig up dirt on an opposition MP in the wake of revelations Defence Minister Peter MacKay was picked up in a search-and-rescue helicopter from a 2010 fishing trip, defence department records show.
It first emerged in a television report on Sept. 21, 2011, that MacKay's office ordered a Cormorant helicopter to pick him up from a private lodge on the Gander River in Newfoundland at an estimated cost of $16,000. His destination was the Gander airport, where a Challenger jet was waiting to take him to a government announcement in London, Ont.
The morning of Sept. 22, Royal Canadian Air Force staff — including an officer posted in MacKay's office — were digging through flight logs to find instances where opposition party MPs took rides aboard military aircraft, according to emails obtained by the Toronto Star.
The search fixated on Liberal MP Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor), whose riding includes the 9 Wing Gander air force base and who was critical of MacKay in the initial CTV report.
By noon that day, the air force officials had found what appeared to be information that might take the edge of Simms' criticisms.
"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."
That email was sent to a number of individuals in Ottawa, including Maj. James Hawthorne, the military assistant to the Minister of National Defence. Hawthorne then demanded to know who invited Simms on the ride-along, where he flew with the Gander-based search-and-rescue crew, and if he paid any money to reimburse the military for the flight.
Another senior air force official, Maj. Jay Nelles, thanked staff in Newfoundland for retrieving the information so quickly, noting that the urgent request for information gave them "a taste of life in Ottawa!!"
Simms said the emails, which he reviewed Thursday, show the Conservative "counter-attack machine" in action. Instead of ministers holding themselves to a higher standard, they attack other politicians' credibility, he said.
"Obviously the minister's office was looking for something they could peg on me."
The Liberal MP said his tour involved an 8 a.m. briefing and two helicopter rides, totalling more than five hours in the air. In the morning he witnessed two search-and-rescue technicians perform a land search. Later in the day, he flew along as they performed a mock marine rescue. Simms said he gained an appreciation for how much preparatory work goes into planning a mission.
It turned out that MacKay's office had directed the search-and-rescue crews to take on Simms as their guest in response to concerns he had raised about response times to distress calls.
But under questioning in the House of Commons the day after news about MacKay's 2010 helicopter ride, the minister used the information uncovered by air force personnel to justify his own controversial trip.
He maintained that his 30-minute ride from the fishing lodge to the Gander airport was in fact a long-delayed search-and-rescue demonstration. He also noted that a number of other MPs, including NDP MPs Jack Harris and Christine Moore, had also taken Cormorant flights to learn about search-and-rescue operations.