Internal government documents show conflicting reasons for why the long-awaited reveal of new LifeFlight helicopters was cancelled in October.
Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey maintains it was because of his schedule, but internal government emails show a different reason — the government didn’t yet know when the helicopters would start serving patients.
The documents were obtained by the Progressive Conservatives through an access to information request. They show staff scrambled to save the event between it being publicly announced on Oct. 25 at 12:05 p.m. and then publicly cancelled at 6:03 p.m.
The event was supposed to take place on Oct. 26.
The current LifeFlight helicopter isn’t allowed to land on some hospital rooftop helipads — adding between 10 and 25 minutes to each trip as an ambulance transports the patient from another helipad to the hospital.
In Halifax, the helicopter lands at Point Pleasant Park.
Delorey told reporters on Oct. 26 the event was cancelled because of a scheduling error.
“There’s some internal communication issues with my schedule that I wasn’t available for this morning as was originally intended,” he said.
However, the heavily redacted documents show that bureaucrats blamed the cancellation on the lack of an in-service date for the two new helicopters.
“We need to be able to provide media a date to say when these new helicopters are going in service or have to delay tomorrow’s event,” reads one email sent by Sherri Aikenhead the day before the planned event.
Then, a short time later, the cancellation was announced internally.
“The minister and the premier’s office have asked us to postpone the event until we are certain of an in-service date,” reads an email from Sarah Levy MacLeod.
But in an interview on Tuesday, Delorey said he never asked staff to postpone the event for that reason. Adding that it still would have gone ahead if it weren’t for a cabinet meeting scheduled for the same time.
“I said well, I’m in Cabinet with an agenda item, I can’t attend that event so that is what triggered the cancellation of the event,” he said.
The unredacted parts of the documents don’t mention a scheduling conflict with Cabinet. But they do cite a conflict with house hours which was addressed by pushing the event to the morning.
WATCH: Nova Scotia to lease two new LifeFlight helicopters
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said this case “goes to the credibility of the minister of health.
“The games continue,” said Baillie.
“First it was the house schedule, now its the cabinet schedule, the fact is, we still don’t have the LifeFlight helicopters.”
On Thursday, Delorey said he hasn’t rescheduled the event yet because he’s waiting until the department knows exactly when the two new helicopters will be in-service.
“What we decided on was that we would choose a date after the full licensing from Transport Canada was in place,” he said.
Long delays to replace LifeFlight helicopter
Since Transport Canada put a stop to the LifeFlight helicopter landing on some hospital helipads in April 2016, the health department has been working to replace the helicopter with one that meets Transport Canada standards for landing on rooftop helipads.
So far both publicly announced deadlines for the replacement have been missed. The first was January 2017. The next was Aug. 1, 2017.
The certification delays are due in part to a “more robust regulatory system and upgrades made to the aircraft medical interior and cockpit navigation system,” according to an emailed statement from the vice-president of Canadian Helicopters, Sylvain Seguin.
For example, he said an unanticipated delay happened when burn tests had to be sent to special labs in the United States.
The health department says it expects to have “sign off” from Transport Canada “by the middle to end of this month.”