Flypast for Afghanistan war ceremony tops $2M

A Canadian Forces CH-147 Chinook helicopter prepares to land on Parliament Hill in preparation for Canada's National Day of Honour.
A Canadian Forces CH-147 Chinook helicopter prepares to land on Parliament Hill in preparation for Canada's National Day of Honour. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

OTTAWA — The Harper government spent more than $2.3 million to fly a series of aircraft over Parliament Hill in May, as part of the day honouring veterans of the 12-year war in Afghanistan, newly-released documents reveal.

It was a toned-down ceremony on May 9, following weeks of controversy over costs and the treatment of veterans’ families.

Although seven different types of aircraft were involved in the flypast, the sleek CF-18 jets often involved in these commemorative ceremonies weren’t.

Instead, there were Chinook and Griffon helicopters, Hercules, Airbus and Globemaster transport planes.

The $2.3-million price tag includes the salaries of the Regular Force personnel, equipment depreciation, command and support costs, as well as operating costs associated with the aircraft.

READ MORE: Advocacy group urges openness about issues veterans face

In the price breakdown, obtained through access-to-information laws, National Defence points out that many of those costs would be incurred regardless of the National Day of Honour.

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The “incremental costs” — described as “additional costs for personnel and equipment that are directly attributable to the Canadian Armed Forces operation” — comes to $285,611, according to the Department of National Defence.

For the sake of comparison, Global News asked DND how much it had paid for other, recent flybys.

The cost for the Canada Day events in 2013 and 2014 involved nine aircraft and cost approximately $33,978, according to National Defence.

When Ottawa’s newest CFL team took to home field for the first time last week, a single Hornet flew over at a cost of $39,210, the department said.

READ MORE: Cannon fire kicks off ceremony to honour Afghanistan veterans

A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson defended the costs, saying any time Canadian Forces members take out an aircraft, the ministry uses it as an opportunity to train its crews.

“May 9 was no exception,” wrote Johanna Quinney. “The national Day of Honour was an important moment in our history.”

Those are the costs associated specifically with the time spent in flight to take part in the flypast, based on each aircraft’s operating cost per flying hour (National Defence uses a manual to calculate the cost per hour for each of its aircraft).

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To compare apples to apples, Global News used information the government provided to calculate the cost of the flypast for the National Day of Honour looking only at the hours flown for the event itself (so, not taking into account the hours spent practicing), multiplied by the cost per hour associated with each of the seven aircraft.

READ MORE: National Day of Honour file

That total comes to $1.1 million, driven up by the Chinook that had to fly almost 12 hours to make the flypast.

A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said whenever aircraft are employed, the ministry uses the opportunity to train its crews.

“May 9 was no exception,”Johanna Quinney wrote in an email, not responding directly to the time the Chinook was in the air. “The National Day of Honour was an important moment in our history.”

Costs associated with the Day of Honour were a source of controversy ahead of the May 9 event.

True Patriot Love, a foundation that raises money for groups helping Forces members and their families, organized a breakfast that morning, kicking off the day.

READ MORE: Day of Honour a chance for families of fallen soldiers to grieve together

Several corporations sponsored the event, including Air Canada and Canadian Tire, among others.

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The involvement of the private sector had some criticizing the government for offloading its financial obligations to support injured members and veterans.

Critics also wondered whether the Day of Honour was planned at the last minute, with the Royal Canadian Legion saying it was only told weeks before that they would be expected to host events at legion halls across the country.

Then, there was the controversy when some families received notice they would have to foot their own bill for travel to and from Ottawa. That decision was later reversed, with the Conservatives saying they would pick up whatever part of the tab True Patriot Love could not.

The Conservatives have cut at least $2.1 billion from the defence budget, and have fought battles with veterans over benefits and pensions.

– With files from The Canadian Press

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