Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
I would like to begin by reminding my colleagues that Canada is a vast country and an important, respected international player, and as such, it is an absolute necessity to have a government fleet of aircraft capable of transporting government ministers as they do their business on behalf of Canadians, when necessary and when it is appropriate.
Virtually every country on the planet has a similar arrangement and similar equipment, including all of our G7 partners. Our use of such aircraft is not only the most open and transparent of all these countries, but also the most necessary.
I do want to take a moment to thank the fine airmen and airwomen of the Royal Canadian Air Force for providing such dedicated service to Canadians.
Our fleet, including six CC-144 Challenger aircraft and five Airbus CC-150 Polaris aircraft, is a crucial tool for the operations of the government. Even in our increasingly connected age, the human touch is still fundamental to doing business. It is simply indispensable.
Representatives of the government must travel around the country and the world on government business. Our fleet, along with our flight crews, maintenance staff, and many support personnel, make sure they do so quickly, efficiently, and safely.
We require capabilities that guarantee we can rapidly reach every corner of our territory, from coast to coast to coast. This is precisely what these aircraft are bringing.
The dedicated VIP transport aircraft are operated by two squadrons, 437 Transport Squadron at CFB Trenton and 412 Transport Squadron here in Ottawa. Both these squadrons have a proud and storied history originating in the Second World War. The history of the 437 squadron goes back to 1944, providing crucial transportation in Europe.
Today it operates the Airbus A310-300s, all designated as CC-150 Polaris aircraft. Only one of these, number 001, is operated in what one might call a true VIP configuration, and for good reason. It has been used by Her Majesty the Queen and other members of the royal family. The other four Polaris are configured as normal aircraft with cargo transport capabilities and air refueling capability.
The 412 squadron can trace its origins back to the Battle of Britain and D-Day. It was the squadron of John Gillespie Magee, Jr., the RCAF pilot who wrote the poignant and memorable poem High Flight only months before his death in 1941.
The 412 squadron operates the CC-144 aircraft, the Bombardier Challenger business jets, in a VIP configuration from Ottawa's Macdonald–Cartier International Airport. These aircraft are twin engine, long-range executive jets, offering rapid air transportation up to 5,930 kilometres and a maximum speed of about 1,000 kilometres per hour. The Challengers can quickly deliver passengers almost anywhere in the world and can be used in a medical evacuation role when required.
It is important to understand that these aircraft are not sitting idle at a terminal just waiting for an urgent call to ferry a minister to a meeting. These are working aircraft undertaking either training or other military work. For example, the 437 squadron used its Polaris air-to-air refueling capabilities to support CF-18 fighters in operations over Libya. The Polaris were also used to ferry Canadian troops back and forth from Afghanistan.
It is important to realize that there are strict rules in place for how these capabilities are used. Most fundamentally, for security reasons, the Prime Minister cannot use commercial aircraft. We all understand that and we all appreciate it. Canadians would be somewhat concerned to see the Prime Minister flying on a commercial jet because of the public safety issues that surround him.
In addition, the use of the fleet is strictly governed by Treasury Board guidelines. Government administrative aircraft are only to be used for government purposes and government business when, first, the flight is being made to a point where there is no commercial air service, when no space is available on a commercial air service, or when because of difficulties in routings or time tables substantial savings of essential time can be made by using administrative aircraft in place of commercial aircraft.
The second instance is when official parties of some size need to travel together and significant advantage can be gained by using a government aircraft. The third is where security considerations render commercial travel impractical. The final one is when the aircraft is being used to transport visiting foreign dignitaries, where it is deemed appropriate or is in the best interest of the Canadian government.
The guidelines are quite clear. Ministers must thoroughly justify their use of government aircraft, and I can assure members that our officials thoroughly review each and every application.
We understand that Canadians do not have the option of government aircraft and, therefore, expect us to ensure the use of our fleet is under careful scrutiny and the use of our RCAF fleet is a last resort, when commercial flights or other options simply will not permit the effective execution of government responsibilities.
When the Prime Minister uses RCAF aircraft on his trips overseas, it is by necessity. Again, I want to remind members that when the Prime Minister uses government aircraft, the RCMP is first of all responsible for the safety and security of the Prime Minister, and its advice is that he should not travel on commercial flights.
As a standard practice, when the Prime Minister uses the Challenger to travel on Conservative Party business, the party reimburses the government the cost of an equivalent commercial flight.
Finally, we have reduced the cost of ministerial travel on government aircraft by nearly 75%, compared to when the Liberals held office.
The Government of Canada is committed to a modern, flexible, and agile Canadian Armed Forces, supported by a professional multipurpose air force. It is always a great pleasure to talk about the great work of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces and, in this particular case, the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Members in the House and Canadians across the country should be proud of their tireless dedication and their tremendous world-leading skills, and this pride should be equal whether our airmen and airwomen are conducting surveillance at home to defend Canada and the North American continent, or quickly deploying a fighter jet capability at home or for overseas operations, or shuttling equipment and personnel deployed on an operation, or as in the case of this motion, transporting government representatives as they do their required business on behalf of all Canadians.