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ottawa notebook

Stephen Harper enjoys samosas at 41,000 feetSteven Chase

Armed with samosas and tamarind sauce, Stephen Harper turned a photo opportunity at 41,000 feet into his own press gallery dinner for journalists accompanying him on a trade mission to India.

Mr. Harper has skipped every annual Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner since he became prime minister. This presumably because the Conservative Leader – who casts himself as an outsider in Ottawa – fears it would confuse his political base if they saw him yukking it up with rivals and journalists.

The November 3 departure date of Mr. Harper's India trip conflicted with the real Press Gallery Dinner in Ottawa. His staff cited the missed dinner when they invited reporters to join the prime minister in the forward section of his Airbus 310.

Accompanied in his cabin by Indo-Canadian MPs including Parm Gill, Devinder Shory, Nina Grewal and Deepak Obhrai, Mr. Harper urged media to try the Indian goodies.

In fact, he was rather insistent – in a good-humoured way – that journalists take at least one samosa.

Back in the late 1980s, the purchase of this jet was criticized by opposition politicians who charged the plane was too extravagant. They dubbed it the "Taj Mahal."

The reality doesn't live up to the billing.

The 25-year-old Airbus 310 resembles a normal passenger plane except for two small cabins that have cushioned bench seating outside them.

One of these rooms is where Mr. Harper offered samosas to journalists.

The rooms are hardly opulent, though. They are finished in the same plastic and wood look as the interior of a motorhome.

Coincidentally, Mr. Harper's first stop on his six-day India trip will be the real Taj Mahal, the white marble mausoleum.

Mr. Harper lands in India Sunday. The media travelling on his plane are charged by the Prime Minister's Office to cover the cost of their flights and meals.