Defence Minister Peter MacKay was a guest of Newfoundland businessman Rob Crosbie during his controversial trip to a remote fishing camp on the Gander River last year.
The minister’s office had declined to say who owned the camp when Mr. MacKay came under fire last week for departing his vacation in a search-and-rescue helicopter.
Mr. Crosbie, chairman of a federal Crown corporation, Marine Atlantic, confirmed on Tuesday that he hosted Mr. MacKay in July, 2010.
“We enjoy spending some personal time when possible – which is rare, as you can imagine – and Peter was on a private vacation that, as he indicated, he cut short,” Mr. Crosbie told The Globe and Mail.
The Harper government installed Mr. Crosbie as chairman of the Marine Atlantic board in 2006. In 2009, the Conservatives extended his appointment until 2014. Marine Atlantic offers ferry services between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Mr. Crosbie, nephew of Mulroney-era cabinet minister John Crosbie, is part owner of the camp on the Gander River.
Mr. MacKay used one of only three search-and-rescue helicopters in Newfoundland to leave the camp last year, a trip estimated to have cost $16,000 that recently has come under heavy fire from opposition critics.
The Defence Minister said he had asked to see search-and-rescue operations in action, and shortened his holiday to take the opportunity to do so.
Mr. Crosbie is also chairman of the Crosbie Group Ltd. and president of Crosbie Salamis Ltd. The Crosbie group of companies is active in real estate and offshore petroleum services and industrial services.
The St. John’s businessman said Mr. MacKay’s visit to the Gander lodge was purely personal. The two families have a relationship that goes a long way back, he said.
“There is a long-term friendship between the families,” Mr. Crosbie said on Tuesday.
John Crosbie and Mr. MacKay’s father, Elmer MacKay, sat in cabinet together during the Mulroney years.
Rob Crosbie confirmed he is a part owner of the fishing camp, but declined to say whether other owners include fellow Atlantic Canadian businessmen Rex Anthony and Rick Gill, as CBC has reported.
“I’m happy to discuss my business, but not other people’s. The camp has a number of owners, of which I am one,” Mr. Crosbie said.
“The fishing trip was a personal relationship.”
Liberal MP Scott Simms said he doesn’t think the trip was purely leisure. “What was the nature of the trip? Was it business or was it pleasure? He says it was pleasure but ... I’m sure business came up.”
Mr. MacKay’s office said the minister wasn’t familiar with the ownership of the Gander fishing camp, adding that he covered his own costs for the holiday.
“Minister MacKay paid for all of his expenses for his vacation,” spokesman Jay Paxton said.
The job of chairing Marine Atlantic pays $8,000 to $9,400 a year, and the appointee can claim per diem payments, when necessary, of $310 to $375.
Crosbie Group companies have in past years secured contracts from the federal government, but there is no evidence they got work from departments where Mr. MacKay served as minister.
Crosbie Industrial Services won a $226,000 contract in April, 2008, from Fisheries Canada to “pump out and dispose of oily water” from ships and vessels.