Friday, September 23, 2011

Come Fly With Me...

Source: CBC News: Challenger Jets' True Cost Revealed
Source: CBC News: MacKay took Military jet to Lobster Fest
Source: CBC News: Challenger Logs Show Low-Security Officials Taking Flights

So, about a week ago we were all aghast when it was revealed that General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of Defence Staff for the Canadian Forces, was jetting about the country using Canada's Challenger jets. One of the major sticking points was his taking the jet to rendezvous with his family in the Caribbean; of course, the flight was defended by the fact that Natynczyk had missed his original flight with his family in order to attend a repatriation ceremony. So, the defence is that he was flown down since he was detained in Canada on official duties as Chief of Defence Staff.

But soon, more and more information started to come out. Natynczyk, and his family, had used the Challenger to fly about the country to attend hockey games and other events. Some have again, defended the action by saying that prior to the games Natynczyk visited military bases in the area. Whether or not that is true, I can't say. I haven't seen any documents that support that statement, but for now we'll leave it as a loose end.

Natynczyk condemned the scrutiny he was under as saying that it seemed like smear campaign...But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

It seems that Natynczyk isn't the only one using military transports as his own personal transport. For security reasons, and likely good ones, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston are required to fly by private jet. Personally, I can understand that...For the most part; so we'll let that go.

Harper, however, has compounded the problem by suggesting that the flights do not cost as much as the media is suggesting. Other military members have also stepped forward, and said that the Challenger cost is inflated in media reports...

Now, the CBC has released a very detailed document that breaks down the cost of the Challenger flights. They can related it better than I, so if you missed the source, you can read it: HERE.

Essentially, the CBC has stated that the cost of flying a Challenger jet for one hour costs Canadian taxpayers $12,531. Which already is higher than the $10,000 estimate the media was running with; and much higher than the $2,000 quote some military officials have provided.

And of course, things get worse from here.

We'll start with the no-named officials who have been using the Challenger fleet. The CBC reports that in June the Challengers flew for 165 hours at a cost of $2 million to taxpayers; the shocking, and downright frustrating part, is that 60% of those hours were for officials who do not require extra security or who cannot take regular flights.

Let me repeat that: 60% of the flights meant for officials who cannot safely ride regular flights were being taken by personnel who did not need the extra security.

At the same time, some are trying to defend the cost of the Challengers by saying that 70% of Challenger's existence is spent inside the hanger. As if we're supposed to be comforted by the fact that the Challengers, which military personal say would have their pilots paid regardless of whether or not the planes fly, only spend about 30% of their time in the air.

And that brings us to Peter MacKay. A day ago, MacKay was under fire for using a search and rescue helicopter in Newfoundland to pick him up from a vacation near the Gander River. MacKay has defended the helicopter ride, which cost taxpayers about $32,000, by saying that he was taking part in a search and rescue demonstration and training exercise.

Needless to say, a lot of people are not happy with this answer. As it stands now, it seems that the helicopter was called to pick up the Defence Minister on the day that it came for him. If someone was taking part in a training exercise, wouldn't they have made arrangements ahead of time?

I mean, if you think about it, you'd check ahead and see that this demonstration was taking place. And once you did, if you wanted to be involved in it, you would probably make sure that you were in the region without needing to be picked up by the aircraft.

Effectively, with how tightly controlled a minister's schedule is, it's doubtful that MacKay had made plans in advance to tag along on this exercise. Which furthermore, makes it doubtful that he really wanted to tag along in the first place. Rather, as it stands now, it looks more like he simply wanted the fastest ride out of his vacation spot of choice.

And then the plot thickens...Almost like a bisque. (Bad pun, perhaps?)

The day after MacKay hopped aboard a military helicopter, he got involved in the use of Challenger jets, by hopping aboard one of the jets and heading to a lobster festival in his riding. MacKay is defending the use of the Challenger by suggesting that it was a work trip, not a personal one, and therefore he has right to use the Challenger.

So, with person after person being found abusing these military transports, what exactly does that mean?

Well, it depends on who you ask. Some people will tell you that our politicians should be able to have access to safe and secure transport. While that is true for the Prime Minister, and even the Governor General, it's hard to make the same argument for cabinet ministers. We'd all be outraged if a backbench MP took a Challenger jet to fly across the country, regardless of the reason for their trip, so why do we seem willing to give cabinet members a pass on this issue?

Canada is facing down the barrel of an economic crisis, as is many other parts of the world; which begs the question about what our government should do to scale back funding and make sure that tax dollars are well spent.

Given that Harper, a trained economist; and Jim Flaherty, a career finance minister, have tendered a $90,000 a day contract to an outside firm to help them balance the budget...Obviously, we all need to be concerned about how this government is spending our tax dollars.

One could argue, that it's part of a bigger plan.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd argue that the Conservatives are tempting Canadians to show outrage over certain issues in order to demand that they be scaled back. The Challengers are estimated to cost Canada $33 million a year, which would be a pretty penny saved if the bulk of the jets were cut.

So, is this simply a move by the Harper Conservatives to get Canadians outraged about the Challengers in order to scrap them? It's possible...But there's no proof. Furthermore, Harper and Johnston still require secure travel, so it wouldn't be wise to scrap these jets altogether.

On top of that, Peter MacKay is still the most likely Conservative heir apparent after Harper steps aside...Something like this could be a major dent in his armour, which I doubt he would take willingly. So, it would seem that this isn't some Conservative plot.

What is the point of this post then?

Frankly, it's a harbinger of whats to come over the next four years. The Harper Government was elected to balance the books, that's the key issue they ran on, and they have talked about being good financial managers. Yet, all we've seen is questionable decision after questionable decision when it comes to spending tax dollars.

Whether that's the cost of the Challengers and who is using them; whether it's paying an outside $90,000 a day to do the government's job of balancing the books; whether it's Tony Clement and his spend fest in his riding prior to the G8/G20 meetings, and the 'posturing' of a friend into a job with a city within his riding...

This is just months after the election; what are we going to see a year from now? Three years from now? Come the next election?

Unlike our tax dollars, by electing the Conservatives, Canadians are getting what they paid for.

No comments: