POLITICS
12/01/2011 03:20 EST | Updated 01/31/2012 05:12 EST

Peter MacKay: Minister Accused Of Misleading Commons Over Helicopter Pickup On Fishing Trip

OTTAWA - Opposition MPs accused Defence Minister Peter MacKay of misleading the House of Commons over his use of a military helicopter to fly him out of a Newfoundland fishing lodge.

Reports indicate a senior military officer warned against using one of the three search-and-rescue Cormorant helicopters serving the Atlantic coast to pick up MacKay.

On Thursday, New Democrat defence critic David Christopherson said MacKay was clear in late September that he only used the helicopter as part of a "previously planned search-and-rescue operation."

But details from emails published by the Toronto Star indicate the pickup was orchestrated specifically to extract the minister from his fishing trip, "under the guise" of a training exercise.

"I can't outright say whether he misled (Parliament)," Christopherson said outside the Commons.

"But it certainly looks to me like he misled it. The documents certainly do not back up the minister's story."

The emails also indicate the military advised against using the chopper, given the negative press it might produce.

MacKay maintained he was taking part in a "showcase" search-and-rescue exercise that had long been offered by the military.

"I stated I took part in a search-and-rescue demonstration," the minister said in the Commons.

"That in fact happened."

MacKay quoted Brig.-Gen. J.G.S. Bedard, the Canadian Forces' official spokesman, as saying the military "had been looking to showcase the Cormorants' abilities and the search-and-rescue capabilities of the Canadian Forces to the minister."

But Liberal MP Scott Simms dismissed MacKay's claims, saying he doesn't believe the mission was planned in advance as a search-and-rescue showcase.

"No, it was not. How can it be?" Simms said.

"What minister MacKay is saying is that he's turning this 20-minute taxi ride into some kind of training exercise that wasn't a training exercise. You can't do this in 20 minutes."