Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Harper suffering case of Air Force One envy

For the last two years the Privy Council Office -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper's department -- reportedly has been waging an internal battle with Defence Minister Peter MacKay over the paint job on the military's VIP Airbus.
According to newswire reports, the PCO has requested that the Canadian Forces' one VIP Airbus -- used by the Prime Minister in his travels -- be painted a distinguished white and red.
The CF, backed by MacKay, wants the Airbus to remain its current military grey. That's because it's one of only five Airbus transports in the CF fleet. When not on VIP duty it can be deployed for other duties, such as transporting troops.
MacKay, along with senior military officers, has reportedly suggested that the PCO's requested paint scheme would make the plane too visible when operating in unfriendly areas of the globe.
Sounds like a reasonable argument. Canadian soldiers are putting themselves in harm's way. They should have the best protection possible when deploying to the world's hot spots.
Does Prime Minister Stephen Harper have Air Force One envy? If so, he should keep it in check.
Painting the Airbus white and red would be akin to painting a bull's eye on it -- in effect reducing the CF's effective transport complement by one.
The reported tussle is interesting in other ways. MacKay is arguably among the most visible and qualified replacements for Harper, should his quest for a majority government fail next time round.
What does it say about the internal dynamics of the Conservatives' top leadership, if MacKay's wishes are continually rebuffed by the PMO?
If Stephen Harper doesn't like the advice he is getting from his defence minister, he should shuffle the cabinet.
Granted, that would be an unpopular move given MacKay's high visibility in the Conservative Party. Such a move would also further expose the PM to allegations that he is a micromanager.
The bottom line? Canada's military is one of the best in the world -- superbly trained and well-equipped. Our troops deserve to have the best protection, the best security, and the best chance for success every time they set foot on foreign soil.
Putting Canada's Prime Minister in a flashy red-and-white jet will not elevate his status any. Rather than worry about such trivia, the PCO should focus on how to better help Harper lead the country.

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