The new paint job on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plane won’t be cost neutral after all.
Repainting the grey Polaris CC-150 military aircraft, red, white and blue, will cost taxpayers an additional $50,000, The Huffington Post Canada has learned.
Although officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and at National Defence pledged for more than two years that the move would be cost neutral, the price of the schematic, the large stencil used to paint designs on the plane and the coloured paint drove the cost up.
The final design, by Royal Canadian Air Force graphic designer Jim Belliveau, features a white plane with a blue underbelly, a thin red swoosh line above it. The words: “Government of Canada, Gouvernement du Canada’” are printed above the passenger windows separated by a small maple leaf.
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Under the window of the cockpit, in italicized script, are the words: “True North Strong and Free” and “Une épopée des plus brilliants exploits” in French. There is a flag on the front door next to Canada’s coat of arms and the RCAF logo near the back of the plane. The white tail, which has a thick blue line and thin red line, features a large drawing of the Canadian flag and its military identifier number 150001.
The design is less labour intensive than others Belliveau suggested, but he did warn government officials the cost of the paint job would make a substantial dent in the budget.
“FYI, there is about a 400 dollar price difference PER GALLON in the cost of red paint versus the cheaper blue. Yellow or orange are up there too,” he warned at one point, according to documents released under Access to Information.
Harper’s office had insisted there would be no additional cost to repaint the Airbus, regardless of the design, and that any paint job would be cost-neutral.
“As we have consistently said, any change would only be contemplated if it were cost neutral, and performed as part of DND's regular maintenance cycle,” Harper’s spokesman Andrew MacDougall told HuffPost last summer.
The Airbus is currently undergoing routine maintenance. It went in for servicing on Jan. 26 and was scheduled to be repainted regardless of the new design. The new paint job should be finished by May, but it’s unclear when Canadians will have their first peek.
Top staffers in the Prime Minister’s office have been working on changing the colour of the utilitarian-looking Airbus for several years. They battled National Defence officials who argued the Airbus should be kept grey for safety purposes during military operations. The government insists the white plane will still be used for military operations and that the paint job will have no impact on DND’s operations.
The prime minister’s Airbus is a thirty-year-old aircraft used to transport the prime minister, Governor General and other dignitaries, such as the Queen and Will and Kate when they honeymooned in Canada in 2011.
A senior government official speaking on condition of anonymity said the Airbus’ new design will return the prime minister’s aircraft to its traditional paint scheme.
“This decision is consistent with past Canadian practices and will better promote Canada’s image at home and abroad,” the official said. The cost of repainting the Airbus aircraft is “modest,” and represents only 2 per cent of the total maintenance cost, according to the official.
HuffPost has also learned the federal government believes it will save $3.5 million by retiring four of the six challenger jets used by the prime minister, the Governor General and top military brass. The government says cabinet ministers do not use the jets as often as in the past, flying commercial instead, and that the planes are no longer needed
“Our Government has reduced average annual spending on ministers' use of challenger flights by over 80% compared to the previous Liberal government,” the official said.