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Stranded Liberals cry foul as travel gods smile on Tories

Liberals are smelling conspiracy after Conservative ministers and MPs managed to get on special Air Canada flights out of Newfoundland early this morning and Grit MPs did not.

"Maybe you can find out how the Tories got their guys out of Newfoundland last night and the Liberals are still stuck on the rock," a Liberal official suggested today.

Said an airline official: "Maybe the Liberals weren't on the Rock but under a rock."

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Here's what happened: The politicians - Liberals, Conservatives and NDP - were at the Juno ceremonies last night in St. John's and had not expected to head out until today.

But last night weather experts were reporting that the cloud of gritty ash from the Icelandic volcano was threatening to drift over Newfoundland, shutting down flights.

Air Canada decided to put on five extra flights - two to Halifax, one each to Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. The special flights left between 12:45 a.m. and 2 o'clock this morning.

Industry Minister Tony Clement, Heritage Minister James Moore and other Tory MPs, including Lee Richardson, Gord Brown, Dean Del Mastro and Rick Dykstra managed to get on the Ottawa flight.

Liberal MPs - most of whom represent Newfoundland ridings, Siobhan Coady, Judy Foote, Gerry Byrne and Scott Andrews - did not get out.

In fact, they are still there. Although, the cloud has dissipated the fog has not. It appears they are stuck until later today.

A Liberal official says they were not notified of the special flights.

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The airline official says that usually a passenger is notified by whoever they booked with - travel agent or the airline. For example, Air Canada will send out an automatic text or email message if they booked directly through Air Canada. And most Tories book through veteran Ottawa political travel agent Scott McCord, so they were definitely notified by him.

And it seems that 120 passengers made the special flight to Toronto; 103 flew to Montreal and only 23 to Ottawa (there was lots of room - at least 65 open seats).

Not only were politicians aware of the special flights but so were the entertainers: teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, crooner Michael Buble (the big winner of the night), CTV's Ben Mulroney and CBC's Jian Gomeshi all made it home. Regular people - unelected and without singing careers - also made it on.

"You didn't need a Juno award to get on," the airline official said.

The Grits, meanwhile, are expected to return to Ottawa later today as the weather is beginning to co-operate. Maybe they should get a new travel agent.

(Photo: A fog-bound jet sits on the tarmac in St. John's this morning. Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

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