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Nfld. opposition slam military decision to authorize fishing trip for troops

A Canadian Armed Forces Griffon helicopter


Newfoundland and Labrador's opposition parties are criticizing the military's decision to allow troops to use a helicopter for a fishing trip.

The trip occurred June 8 but only came to light after provincial Liberal member Randy Edmunds recently posted a photo to Facebook showing crew members from 5 Wing Goose Bay at a Labrador lake.

Captain Dave Bowen, a spokesman for the airbase, said the commanding officer of 444 Combat Support Squadron authorized the use of a CH-146 Griffon for the trip.

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"This trip was approved ... as an extraordinary measure to recognize the effort of the ground crews in completing essential maintenance and detailed inspection of one of the aircraft returning to Goose Bay from a deployment in Jamaica," Capt. Bowen said in an e-mail.

He also said the crew members on the trip to No Name Lake conducted a reconnaissance mission for ongoing operations in the area, adding: "The survival training of many members serving in 444 Combat Support Squadron entails practical fishing skill."

But Mr. Edmunds, who represents the Labrador riding of Torngat Mountains, said it was a misuse of military aircraft.

"I thought after what happened with the fishing trip with Minister (Peter) MacKay and the Burton Winters's story that we would never see something like this again," he said Friday in an interview.

"For the military to call it a reward trip for training, I'm just appalled."

Burton, 14, went missing in January while snowmobiling in the coastal Labrador community of Makkovik. He was found dead three days later.

His death attracted national attention after the military was criticized for not joining the search for two days, citing poor weather and mechanical problems with its aircraft.

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Provincial NDP emergency services critic George Murphy said the military's decision to authorize the use of the chopper for such a trip was "stupid."

"I am all in favour of rewarding workers for doing a good job, but surely to goodness the commander could have found some other way than by using a military helicopter to take them on a fishing trip," Mr. Murphy said in a statement.

"We are very fortunate no emergencies came up."

Capt. Bowen said the crew members on the trip were available if an emergency arose and could have responded if needed. He declined an interview request, saying the Defence Department would not speak further about the matter at this time.

Newfoundland Premier Kathy Dunderdale also declined an interview request but issued a statement.

"Any use of DND assets that could interfere with their availability for service to the people of our province is completely inappropriate," she said.

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Mr. MacKay came under criticism late last year after it was reported he used a search-and-rescue helicopter to shuttle him to the airport in Gander, Nfld., from a personal vacation at a remote fishing lodge in 2010.

Mr. MacKay said the 30-minute trip was preplanned and he had been waiting for the opportunity to check out the work of the search-and-rescue team in the region. He also said his vacation was cut short by government business in London, Ont.

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