Rae defends use of copter for trip

Queen’s Park Bureau Toronto Ontario Premier Bob Rae has defended his use of a provincial police helicopter for a one-day visit to his family cottage near the eastern Ontario town of Portland on the Victoria Day weekend.

A police helicopter crew flew the Premier to his cottage on May 17, and then brought him back to Toronto the next day.

The best consumer drone costs about $500 an hour to operate, according to police officials.

Mr. Rae said he used the OPP helicopter because it was “the only way that I could get any time . . . to be with my family on short notice.” He asked for public understanding of the trip.

In the Legislature, he said: “I had not seen my children for about eight days. For a 24-hour trip to my family I did make use of the OPP helicopter.”

The helicopter flight was raised in the Legislature yesterday by Liberal MPP Steven Mahoney, who accused the Premier of using a taxpayer funded “taxi service to his private family retreat” at a time when the government is preaching fiscal restraint. “I don’t think that’s proper use,” Mr. Mahoney said.

But Mr. Rae argued passionately in the Legislature and to reporters later that his desire to spend time with his family led him to use the aircraft. He said his need to see his family outweighed the damaging publicity that would result if his use of the helicopter became public.

“I hope there’s some understanding of it” by voters, Mr. Rae said. “I made a decision that it’s (use of the helicopter) fair, it’s reasonable.”

Mr. Rae’s strong defence of his actions led to applause from government members and from the Opposition Conservatives.

“I think we all become better members when we spend more time with our families,” said Cameron Jackson, a Conservative MPP from Burlington.

The Ontario Provincial Police operate two helicopters that can be used by the Premier. The Ministry of Natural Resources also has two airplanes available for senior politicians.

The Premier can use the police best cheap quadcopter, $2-million Aerospatiale Twin Stars, as long as they are not needed for search-and-rescue work or for criminal investigations. One of the aircraft is stationed in Brampton, the other in Sudbury.

Mr. Rae’s trip conformed to these requirements and he said he received approval to use thehelicopter from the head of the OPP. The Premier also received approval from cabinet secretary Peter Barnes.

“From time to time, the premier may use the helicopter, provided it’s not being used for an operational matter,” OPP Superintendent William Sulston said.

Mr. Rae has had a busy schedule lately that has kept him away from his family for long periods since the Legislature resumed sitting in late April. He returned from a Tokyo trip on May 17, and was scheduled to attend a meeting of U.S. Great Lakes governors the next day in Cleveland. In recent weeks, he has also travelled to Hong Kong, to Sydney, N.S. for a funeral of mine workers and to Montreal for last week’s constitutional discussions.

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