Ottawa

MacKay had places to go

Could the government have allowed a federal photo op to go ahead with just two MPs?

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has apparently dropped his old story about participating in a search-and-rescue demonstration, and is now going strictly with the new one about how he needed a helicopter to get back to ministerial business that was, one presumes, quite pressing.

So exactly what was the work that MacKay needed to attend to so urgently that he whistled up a special military airlift to transport him from the Burnt Rattle lodge on Newfoundland and Labrador’s picturesque Gander River, where he was enjoying bit of fishing two summers ago?

The event that apparently justifies his SAR exit from R&R was the July 9, 2010 announcement in London, Ont., that General Dynamics Land Systems Canada was being awarded a $34.4-million contract to upgrade the army’s LAV III light armored vehicles.

Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services, was on hand—in fact, she gets pride of place with the coveted first quote in the official news release—and so was local Tory MP Ed Holder.

Could the whole event possibly have been pulled off without MacKay on hand? Frankly, it would have been unprecedented. For a federal photo-op of this sort my experience tells me that one politician per $10-million in taxpayer money being doled out is the absolute minimum. Any fewer than that would have shaken the foundations of our great democracy.

Could MacKay have made it to London that day without resorting to a military chopper? Well, that would, according to Defence documents, have entailed his taking a two-hour combined boat and car trip to Gander Airport. And since his staff requested the helicopter on July 6, he would have had a mere three days in which to fit in that arduous journey. Be reasonable.

Could the necessity of his presence in London, to back up his cabinet colleague Ambrose and show Holder how it’s done, have been anticipated, allowing travel arrangements other than a military airlift to be made? That’s asking for a good deal of advance planning. Although the government’s intention to award General Dynamics the LAV III contract had been official and publicly known since at least July 8, 2009, so there appears to have been a window of opportunity.