It wasn’t a great fall for Defence Minister Peter MacKay. The rugby-playing Nova Scotian spent much of his autumn fighting off allegations he used a search-and-rescue helicopter as a personal taxi. Lucky for him, he had backup.
The Toronto Star reported Friday that officers in Canada’s ostensibly apolitical military were marshalled to dig up political cover for their civilian minister. Emails obtained by the paper show soldiers frantically hunting for evidence that opposition MPs, particularly Liberal Scott Simms, had taken similar flights:
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.
As it turned out, MacKay’s office had arranged Simms’ trip. But that didn’t stop the minister from raising it in his own defence in the House. But where Simms’ journey was an all-day, two-mission demonstration, MacKay’s was a 30-minute jaunt organized four days before to help get him to a political funding announcement on time.