Defence Minister Peter MacKay says it's not true that a search and rescue helicopter was retasked to pick him up at a fishing resort and drop him off at a Gander, Nfld., airport in 2010.So why is this little rewording worth paying attention to? It suggests that MacKay et al. are sensitive to the charge that his sweet ride diverted a Cormorant away from its principal search and rescue tasking. As we saw in some coverage on the weekend, MacKay's helicopter limo ride is not going over well in Newfoundland. There, search and rescue operations are taken quite seriously and the issue is doubly sensitive given that they are being cut back in some respects by the Harper government. For a minister to be using a helicopter that has a search and rescue designation as a taxi to the airport embodies optics of the worst kind. It's a poke in the eye to Newfoundlanders in particular. And it's not just optics, really. It looks bad, sure. Because it is bad, in and of itself. Diverting a search and rescue helicopter for ministerial scheduling ease is right up there in the ranks of offensive perks that a minister could possibly pursue.
Facing renewed questions in the House of Commons Monday, MacKay repeated his assertion that he left a vacation to go to work. Emails released last week show MacKay's staff requested the helicopter flight to get him to the airport in Gander faster than the two hours it would have taken to travel by boat and car.
"Any suggestion that there was a retasking or a diversion of search and rescue aircraft from their actual tasking is simply untrue," MacKay said.
MacKay's use of retasking is not helping him either. No, he didn't snag a helicopter away from an imminent rescue mission. But it was a search and rescue helicopter he was hoisted into. The helicopter was retasked away from its search and rescue work which is to stand by for search and rescue missions.
Perhaps hoisting a federal minister who is on a fishing getaway is now to be classified as search and rescue work. Maybe that's what MacKay is suggesting by saying the helicopter wasn't retasked. And who knows, maybe in MacKay's case, that is true.
The use of the word retasking is also a helpful reminder that there is a certain someone who deserves to be retasked just about now...