OTTAWA — He pulled up for the first meeting of the opposition Conservative caucus in a basic minivan, but Stephen Harper flew home in style. The Canadian Press has learned that thanks to an offer by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Harper returned to Calgary last week aboard a government-owned VIP Challenger jet. Harper routinely flew in the Challengers while prime minister, as security risks meant he couldn't fly commercial, but that perk was among those he lost in the transfer of power from the Conservative government to the Liberals last week. And though Harper is still a sitting MP, he's also lost access to the luxury car, driver and accompanying major security detail that goes along with being prime minister — hence the arrival at the House of Commons last week in a minivan. But while he should have had to take a commercial flight home later that night, the Liberals offered him the use of the custom-equipped jet — and he accepted. Previous Liberal governments' use of the luxury planes was among the things Harper used to needle them about when he was opposition leader. But once he became prime minister, he would use the planes to fly his own family across Canada and to the U.S. for hockey or baseball games or purely partisan events, flights for which the taxpayer was reimbursed, though whether that was done fairly was often in dispute. The estimated cost for an hour of flight time on the Challenger ranges from around $3,000 to closer to $11,000 depending on whether fixed costs such as a pilot's salary are factored in. At one point, the Conservatives were going to decommission four of its six C-144 Challengers but later scaled the plan back to the deactivation of just two planes. The reason? Executive jets were getting more VIP and military use than thought and the air force couldn't manage with just two planes in the fleet.
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