Monday, October 30, 2006

Question of the day – Challengers

Interesting story on the CP ticker recently that provides yet more evidence that when the Conservatives talked about accountability and transparency it was never more than a punch line.

Back when the Liberals were in government, the Conservatives love to rail about ministers and the PM gallivanting around the country on the military's fleet of Challenger jets. Many, many times we were told by Jason Kenney and others that the true cost of operating the jets was $11,000/hour, and that the government was hiding this startling fact. Well, today the government is still hiding it, but now it's the Conservative government doing the hiding.

It's practice for the taxpayer to be reimbursed for non-government business travel. Harper and six staffers took the jet to a provincial fundraiser in Halifax in May, and the CPC reimbursed the government $6,630.90 for the flight. Earlier this month, Harper took his son and some staffers to a Leafs game, and reimbursed the taxpayers $2993.13 for that trip.

It raises a question though, given the fact the CPC has insisted for years the "true" cost of operating the Challenger was $11,000/hour. Were the CPC lying and artificially inflating the true cost for political points while in opposition? Or, were they right and is the true cost $11k? If the latter is true, given that it's unlikely Halifax/Toronto return is a 30 minute flight, then why are we subsidizing Harper's trips to hockey games and fundraisers?

It would seem sensible then to ask DND what the actual cost of operating the Challenger fleet is. Naturally, the reporter did:

A Defence Department spokeswoman said Friday the fleet of six Challenger executive jets costs $12 million a year to maintain. Flying costs are pegged at $2,233 an hour, plus between $800 and $1,000 a day in duty costs for flight crews sitting on the tarmac, plus ramp charges which are typically around $50.

Asked to break down the numbers into the true cost of the prime minister's February junket to Halifax, Lt. Carole Brown came back empty-handed.

"The word came back from the powers that be," Brown told The Canadian Press. "We were shut down on this one."

And we all know who the powers that be are, don't we? Yet more evidence the Harper PMO is more controlling that Martin or Chretien ever dreamed. Still, while the exact cost per hour isn't known, we do know that it is at least $2,233/per hour, and indeed more than that when other expenses are factored in.

But let's use that base figure for our calculations. We know that for the two trips the CPC reimbursed the people of Canada $9624.00. We know that total flight time for the trips was appx. six hours. At the very conservative (small 'c') operating cost of $2,233/per hour, that would cost $13,398. Which means Harper shortchanged the taxpayer by at least $3774. More, when you factor in the flight crews, ramp fees and other costs. Or, if Harper was telling the truth in opposition when his MPs would routinely say the true cost was $11,000/hour, then he owes the taxpayers some $56,376.

Here's the question:

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of National Defence. While in opposition, members now on the government side would routinely peg the so-called "true cost" of operating a Challenger Jet at $11,000 an hour. Now that they're in government, though, their tune seems to have changed, with the Conservative Party reimbursing the Government at a fraction of that rate for the Prime Minister's non-government travel.

One wonders, Mr. Speaker, were they wrong then or are they wrong now? When asked by the media for the actual operating costs DND claimed it was shutdown by the "powers that be" from answering.

I'd like to ask the powers that be across the way, Mr. Speaker, will they finally come clean, remove the bureaucratic muzzle and table documents in this House indicating the TRUE hourly cost of operating the Challenger fleet and the Prime Minister's hockey road trips?

And how about a supplemental, just for fun. We'll assume Kenney or O'Connor made some snide attack on the Libs without seriously addressing the question. A stretch, I know, but work with me here.

It seems like their motto is accountability and transparency if necessary, but not necessarily accountability and transparency doesn't it, Mr. Speaker?

It was my mistake though in not addressing my question to the actual "powers that be", so maybe I'll have better luck with the Prime Minister.

According to the minimal data provided by DND, before they were muzzled, the bare-bones minimum cost of operating a Challenger Jet is $2,233/per hour in flight costs. And we know flight time for the two trips by the Prime Minister was six hours. According to my trusty calculator, that means he still owes the taxpayers at least $3774, and even more if his $11,000/hour attacks over the years weren't just hot air.

Mr. Speaker, I'd like to ask the Prime Minister will he be writing another cheque, or does he feel the taxpayers of Canada should be subsidizing his hockey road trips?

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/dev/null said...

Jeff, you should be emailing these to someone in Ottawa. Seriously. Is your MP a Liberal? (I've got Emerson, otherwise I'd be doing it for you.)

Great stuff.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Thanks Dev. My MP is a Liberal but I've not really been able to connect with the local riding association. I do know though that a few folks in Ottawa do read this blog from time to time.