Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mr MacKay's Helicopter Ride

Mr McKay, federal Minister of Defense, has been much in the news lately for his ride a few years ago in a Search and Rescue helicopter from a private fishing lodge on the Gander River to the airport at Gander, NL. At Gander he boarded a military jet and flew to Ontario for an announcement of a military procurement program and then flew home to Halifax so he could attend a Lobster Carnival in Pictou, in his riding. The Opposition refused to believe his story that the helicopter ride was a pre-planned opportunity to view the search and rescue capability of the Armed Forces. I am not sure how many Canadians were prepared to believe that either.
Mr MacKay is not the first Nova Scotian politician to be attacked by their Oppositions for helicopter rides. Both Premiers Buchanan and Regan were criticised for using helicopters for transportation, the one for flying in the NS Power chopper (before privatisation) and the other for riding in the NS Department of Lands and Forests chopper. At this stage I cannot remember which was which. And a long time military helicopter pilot once told me an amusing story of landing at Digby Pines to pick up a prominent federal politician, and having to wait for the man for two hours. It seems that he was up late partying and asked the air crew to log in some maintenance or equipment failure time to cover his over-sleeping. I seem to recall that the military pilots let their actual logs stand.
The temptation to fly in choppers must be very great. If there are important political or governmental events to be attended and the travel time by car prevents one or more from being accomplished, and the power to fly is in the hands of the politician, then I suspect that one starts to rationalise the decision and good cover stories are devised and then we’re off in the air.
I ran across a similar problem in the high Arctic in the late 1980′s when loan applications and supporting documents had to go in the mail or in the pilot’s pouch to reach the loan board which was half a continent away. As long as there was no other option the client had to resign himself to having his late application miss the monthly board meeting. But then the first fax machine arrived in town. Our second hand Bell Telephone switching equipment could not accommodate a data rate greater than 300 baud, which meant that the documents scanned at several seconds per line. And the fax machine was in a NGO office that had no great love for our department. But so long as there was the possibility that the document could be moved, we were obliged to spend an hour standing over a fax machine in an unfriendly office transmitting pages.
And so it is with helicopter rides. So long as there is no possibility of making connections or driving to events, the decision is self-made. But if one can summon up a helicopter good judgement gets clouded, especially if there is a good cover-story at hand. It’s important for the Minister of defense to be winched into a helicopter at least once, and once he is in the aircraft, well, we may as well slip over to the Gander airport . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment