National Post

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Monday, October 25, 1999

Viceroy will travel 'this whole country,' in expensive style
$61,000 bill for flight: Clarkson spurs waiting plane, wants Challenger VIP
Adam Killick
National Post

Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press
Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor-General, wore a pink bathrobe to the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner on Saturday, sending up her image as a regal figure. Referring to remarks about the dress she wore at the Throne Speech earlier this month -- described by some as a bathrobe -- Ms. Clarkson said, it's de rigueur to dress appropriately for the Parliament Hill event, at which politicians and public figures lampoon their own images.

The Department of National Defence spent more than $60,000 to dispatch a Challenger VIP jet from Ottawa to pick up Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor-General, in Edmonton even though a military de Havilland Dash 8 was already standing by at the airport to fly her home.

Ms. Clarkson and her husband, John Ralston Saul, flew to Alberta for a series of functions that began on October 16 and lasted four days. The meetings included awards ceremonies, a levee and discussions with dignitaries, including Ralph Klein, the Premier.

The levee that she hosted in Calgary was the first in a series to which the recently installed governor-general has committed herself.

In her installation speech on October 7, Ms. Clarkson said she intends to make similar trips to all provinces and territories. "John and I intend to travel and re-travel this whole country by plane, train, car, canoe and kayak," she said.

Ms. Clarkson flew to Calgary from Ottawa on one of the Department of National Defence's four exclusive Challenger jets, but the jet, used also to ferry the prime minister and cabinet members, was sent on another assignment after she landed.

The governor-general was then due to fly from Calgary to Edmonton, but because the Challenger was no longer available, a Dash 8 -- a 48-seat, twin-engine turbo-prop being flown from Arizona to Winnipeg -- was redirected to Calgary to replace it.

After flying the 45-minute journey to Edmonton, Ms. Clarkson carried out other duties and was then expected to take a second flight in the Dash 8, this time home to Ottawa.

But instead of taking the Dash 8, a second Challenger jet was ordered to fly from the capital to Edmonton to carry Ms. Clarkson and Mr. Saul home.

Captain Laurie Kannegeisser, a spokeswoman at air force headquarters in Winnipeg, said it was unclear why the decision had been made not to use the cheaper, available aircraft. "It is faster and much more comfortable," she said.

One military source said Ms. Clarkson complained the Dash 8, which has a noisier cabin than a jet, was uncomfortable. The Dash 8 was returned to its base in Winnipeg after the Challenger was ordered.

The Challenger costs DND $7,679 per flying hour to operate. The return trip from Ottawa to Edmonton takes about eight hours in a Challenger jet.

That a jet may be sent empty to pick up a dignitary is "not unusual," she said. "The whole purpose of the Challenger is to fly VIPs."

The Challenger jet, manufactured by Quebec-based Bombardier, Inc., is a commonly used business aircraft. DND's four VIP jets feature oversized seats, a sofa and and a large lavatory.

The military's Dash 8s, identical to those commonly used by commercial airlines, are usually used to fly air force personnel on short-haul flights, Cpt. Kannegeisser said.

Actual costs for the four Ottawa-based VIP Challenger jets are unavailable, but similar planes based in Greenwood, N.S. cost $2,856 per hour to operate, plus the salaries of the four-person crew when in the air. Maintenance, depreciation and other routine expenses cost the government an additional $4,823 per flying hour, Cpt. Kannegeisser said.

Anyone who rents the plane must pay the full $7,679 hourly rate, she added.

The Dash 8 costs $1,111 an hour to fly, and another $4,684 in additional hourly expenses.

Several months ago, it was revealed that Ethel Blondin-Andrew, a junior federal cabinet minister from the Northwest Territories, rang up a $750,000 tab in one year using the jets to fly between Ottawa and her riding in Yellowknife, even though MPs receive vouchers for 64 free commercial flights per year.

The Challenger jets are mostly used by Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, who cannot fly on commercial flights for security reasons. They are also reserved for the governor-general and visiting members of the Royal Family. Cabinet ministers may use the jets only when they can show that scheduled commercial airline flights do not meet their needs.


(Each link opens a new window)

  • Governor General home page

  • Installation Ceremony

  • Adrienne Clarkson biography

  • Adrienne Clarkson Home Page

  • Adrienne Clarkson's resume

  • Copyright Southam Inc.