The Canadian Forces outreach program that invited Senators and Members of Parliament to military units and bases has been discontinued (David Pugliese, “Military outreach for MP’s dropped after Peter Mackay’s chopper scandal,” Postmedia News, 23 July 2012):
The parliamentary outreach program allowed MPs and senators to visit military units and bases to improve their knowledge of the Canadian Forces.
But the visits became controversial earlier this year when it was revealed air force officers gathered information on MacKay’s political opponents in an effort to help out the beleaguered defence minister.
Air force officers targeted Scott Simms, a Liberal MP who criticized the decision by MacKay’s office to order a search-and-rescue helicopter to retrieve the minister from a private fishing lodge. That flight cost taxpayers $16,000, according to reports last year.
In addition, officers gathered information on NDP defence critic Jack Harris, who also has criticized MacKay.
The officers were trying to find out if the opposition MPs had ever used military aircraft and, if so, had reimbursed the Canadian Forces for their flights.
But both MPs were visiting bases as part of military efforts to educate them about the Canadian Forces and at no point had they used aircraft for personal reasons.
News of the program’s closure was a disappointment to Harris, who spent three days with a search and rescue crew to learn about their work.
“The military harmed the program by co-operating with MacKay’s office and by treating it as a political issue,” said Harris. “But I still think they should bring the program back.”
The outreach program, he noted, “improves the democratic relationship between parliament and the military.”
The Defence Department said that the reason for the closure was cost-cutting; however, DND refused to release any numbers. Harris believes little money will be saved in shutting down the program.
“Given the current context of fiscal restraint and the realignment of priorities to available resources, it was decided to discontinue the parliamentary outreach program and to focus on the delivery of other programs,” Defence Department official Elizabeth Hodges stated in an email.
“While the Canadian Forces Parliamentary Program has been discontinued, engagement opportunities for parliamentarians will continue in a decentralized manner at the base and wing level.”
Photo credit: DND