$101M Jets Purchase:
Unwarranted, Unnecessary, Arrogant and Duplicitous

Ottawa - Saturday, April 13, 2002 - by: Walter Robinson, Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation


Pop quiz time: How quickly can you spend $101.5 million?
Well if you’re the federal cabinet, the answer is about fifteen seconds.


On March 28th — the last day of the fiscal year — Ottawa announced late in the day by way of obscure news release that it had purchased two Challenger 604 executive jets made by Montreal-based Bombardier. The last time Ottawa moved this fast was during last spring’s rush to hike their pay packages by 20% and pensions by 42%.




The government has a fleet of four Challengers and these new jets are destined to replace two older models that have been in service for nineteen years. While Canadians generally would not discount the need for modern equipment for the activities of government, four questions arise when considering this purchase:
  1. Are these jets needed?
  2. Can we afford this purchase?
  3. Where does this purchase fit into the list of expenditure priorities for the government?
  4. What is the gut reaction of Canadians to this expenditure?




On the question of need, the answer is a definitive no. According to Access to Information documents obtained by the media, Gen. Ray Henault — the Chief of Defence Staff and the man ultimately responsible for the government’s executive jet fleet — was told as late as January that new planes were not needed.




A January 8th report to Gen. Henault stated:
Given that there are no identifiable trends or problems with this fleet and given the high dispatch reliability of the Challenger, it is recommended that remedial action such as fleet modernization or replacement is not warranted at this time.
This report also noted that in twenty months over the last two years, just thirteen Challenger flights out of almost 1,600 were delayed to mechanical problems. This is as close to perfect performance record as one can get.




As for the arguments that these new jets can do trans-Atlantic flights and land at more Canadian airports, it doesn’t wash. Cabinet Ministers, and for that matter, opposition MPs (who they sometimes fly with) can easily get to most Canadian communities and the instances of last minute, non-commercial international travel are not that significant to justify this purchase.




Turning to the affordability question, the simple answer is yes. Given the fact that Ottawa is on track to run a $7 billion surplus of over-taxation for fiscal year 2001/2002, this purchase is — when taken in isolation -- affordable.


However, this broader policy context question of where on the list of government priorities this acquisition fits must be considered. To be blunt, it doesn’t even make the top one hundred. From health care to debt reduction to providing greater tax relief to meeting the legitimate infrastructure needs of Canadian municipalities, countless other priorities are higher than ensuring Cabinet bigwigs fly in style.




And this leads to the reaction of Canadians and public opinion. The optics for the Chretien government are pathetic to say the least.



Sea Kings

Our military are flying around in some Sea Kings that came into service when John F. Kennedy was President, but unneeded jets are more important?


Provincial governments are screaming for more money for medical technology like MRIs and resources to hire health care professionals, but unwarranted jets are more important?



taj mahal

In opposition, the Liberals denounced Mr. Mulroney’s “flying taj mahal” Airbus 310s retrofit, but in government executive jets are now okay and needed?




This purchase not only represents a squandering of $101.5 million, it sets a new precedent for federal arrogance and duplicity.


  Walter Robinson
Federal Director