Friday, December 2, 2011

Peter MacKay’s helicopter trip - a tempest (and a couple of dumb-ass colonels) in a tea-pot

My initial reaction to the press generated ‘furor’ over Peter MacKay’s ride in a Cormorant SAR chopper was near complete indifference. It’s much ado about bugger-all. I don’t see the scandal in the MND commandeering a ride in a military aircraft once in a blue-moon. Big deal!

Having read the latest story about the "scandalous emails" I’m still indifferent about MacKay’s helicopter trip, but disappointed in some of the military officers involved. If there’s any embarrassment in this situation it will be mostly because of stupid, indiscreet comments and speculation in emails that have been leaked [or FOI’d] to the press:
... At one point during the discussion, a different officer, Col. Bruce Ploughman of One Canadian Air Division Headquarters in Winnipeg, raised concerns about the optics of picking the minister up from a fishing trip with a military helicopter.

"When the guy who's fishing at the fishing hole next to the minister sees the big yellow helicopter arrive and decides to use his cellphone to video the minister getting on board and post it on YouTube," Ploughman wrote, "who will be answering the mail on that one?" [And he puts this in writing?! Good grief!]

Ploughman expressed reluctance to have the military accept the mission. [If true, Ploughman is truly an idiot. A tasking coming from high up the chain, in support of the MINISTER of Defence, isn’t something you’d expect a mere colonel to“express reluctance” about “accepting”.]

"If we are tasked to do this we, of course, will comply," he wrote. "Given the potential for negative press though, I would likely recommend against it, especially in view of the fact that the Air Force receives regular [freedom-of-information requests] specifically targeting travel on [military] aircraft by ministers." [Oh the irony! It doesn’t seem to have crossed Ploughman’s pea-brain that his own email musings might be even more damaging should they be made public.]

The next day, July 7, 2010, Lt.-Col. Chris Bulls wrote that the "mission will be under the guise" of search-and-rescue training. [“ ... under the guise of ...”!!? Kee-ryste - how about (at least) “... the mission is search-and-rescue training”??]
What a couple of dumb-asses! My bet is that those colonels’ careers will be suffering a severe set-back. Their bosses, right up to the CDS, will be livid.


RJ65 said...

As a Minister of the Crown, private or commercial transportation should be used whenever reasonable to do so. That being said, MacKay's record as a Minister has earned him the right for us to cut him a little slack on this one even if it may have been inappropriate.

As for the military, they need to learn to not write anything down or record anything that they would not want on the front page of a newspaper. General rule of thumb, if you don't want to stand by the comment in public, keep the musing to yourself.

Anonymous said...

The flight was a waste of money and took a SAR asset away from its primary mission. McKay knows his use was an abuse of an entitlement that is why he lied about it.

What is shocking and sad is that the military issued orders under a "guise" to protect the minister.

Anonymous said...

I think we should cut him some slack too. Basically Mackay doesn't have a life because he is on call all the time.

Anonymous said...

If it was one of Chretien's lackeys caught doing this BS on the public dime, I doubt very much that any one of us would cut them any slack for it, so why should we do so when it happens to be someone that we voted for? The overwhelming reason that most of us voted for Harper was because we expect him to be responsible with the public purse, and everytime that nonsense like this comes to light, the more it reinforces the perception that the only difference between political parties is the colour of the posters they stand in front of when they lie to us.

JR said...

(1) no harm was done with MacKay's flight. In fact the crews did get some training in with the op - training they'd no doubt get doing something similar elsewhere.
(2) if I didn't cut a Liberal MND slack in similar circumstances it would be because (a)I'm a partisan (b)Liberals have been generally neglectful of the military (if not contemptuous) AND (c)because the Minister was some dope like, say, John McCallum.
(3) Peter MacKay has been a top-notch MND and deserves the slack.
(4) I reserve my dismay for the officers who wrote those dimwitted emails providing fodder for a gotcha press pushing a non-scandal. And I'd feel the same about that even if the MND were a Liberal.

Shorter JR said...

It's perfectly okay when TEAM BLUE does it!

Anonymous said...

JR , I don't get it. The harm is wasted tax money and a SAR asset that was unavailable for its primary mission. Cheerier ran 8 years of balanced budgets. Each budget was 200 billion dollars. We didn't say that Chretien should get slack for the $4 million in ad scam because that was a tiny amount compared to all the good.

McKay needs to be prudent. He is not entitled to be wasteful because we like him. He is not entitled to lie when caught. It is not the role of the military to imagine the reaction of the media and how it will reflect on a minister. The military communications were honest and accurate. Your criticisms of officers is way offside.

Anonymous said...

The above 2 comments sum up the reply I WAS going to post, but they did it nicely. The only thing I would add is that I remember no end of our party tearing their hair out over "I'm entitled to my entitlements" and the price of a pack of gum, so what has changed between then and now? If "responsible government" is only a catchphrase, and this is all nothing more than partisan hackery and "who cares if it's taxpayer money, we can always get more", then the only difference between their party and ours is the specific things we are willing to be lied to about.

Anonymous said...

Tax money was not wasted, and the SAR aset was available.

Primary SAR crews continue to train, whlie holding SAR. They must be available to launch on a mission within 30 minutes from notice. Except after hours call outs. So, if the helicopter was training in the area (which it was), and they received a SAR tasking, the MND would have remained where he was.

People don't realize the fact that the cost of operating and maintaining aircraft, is factor in before the year starts. For example. Lets say the SAR helicopter fleet is given 3,000 hours a year to fly (YFR). Then the budget for training and operations is based on the 3,000 hours of flying. So, in other words, the aircraft can take-off and fly circles around the airport doing nothing, can go and do SAR training, or do an actual SAR mission. The average Canadian taxpayer does not realize this, is not told this, or sometimes not interested in this fact.

I know one of the aircrew on this mission. At least I know the real version, and somehow it is different from what has been made public. No surprise there, eh?

JR said...

Anon (Dec 3, 10:00:00 AM PST), Exacly so. Well said.

Anonymous said...

There are two things wrong with this story.

1. As stated previously, MacKay's trip DID take a search and rescue asset out of commission for a short period of time, luckily there was no harm done, but the risk was there.

2. Politically, it just looks bad, real bad. It creates an image of arrogance, one that you are helping to perpetuate. It was this sense of entitlement that sank the Liberals.

The fact that the military officers realized all of this this while MacKay's didn't is a real eye-opener on the quality of his staff.

You're wrong to go after the troops on this one. They were doing their due diligance when their boss didn't. They are right on the mark with their comments.

JR said...

Most of your points have been addressed in the comments above.

To your last point, I'm not going after the "troops" but senior staff officers who should know better than to commit dopey musings and speculation to email communications which are subject to even greater risk of exposure than what they were fretting over. As it turned out they made matters much worse (unless you think recklessly exposing your bosses to embarrassment is a good thing). I can tell you as a former military officer with more than 30 years of service those officers' superiors will be supremely pissed off and justifiably so.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Dec 04, 5:27 PM PST

Your comment number one. Sorry, have to call bullshit on that one.

SAR crews holding a standby posture through 0800 to 1600 daily, routinely carryout training that involves exactly what happened with McKay. The standby crew ended up hoisting him from where he was, no different than hoisting a ordinary Joe from a Coast Vessel while holding standby. An everyday occurence in day-to-day operations in the SAR world. Once again, if a real operational tasking came up, the crew would cease the training, leave him there, and go do the search, rescue, whatever. The aircraft operating costs have already been factored in. Next time, lets have the helicopter circle over Gander for 3 hours in do SFA. Same deal. Already paid for. The asset was never out of commission.