By: Bruce Campion-Smith/Ottawa Bureau Chief/Torstar News Service
OTTAWA—Opposition MPs are slamming the decision to spend $1 million to ship Stephen Harper’s “Taj Mahal taxi” — two armoured vehicles — to India for the prime minister’s visit last fall.
The government revealed Tuesday it spent $1 million to have an air force C-17 Globemaster transport plane haul a Cadillac limo and SUV to India, plus another $31,356 to cover the cost of the military personnel on the trip.
“This is a government that has the nerve to tell senior citizens that the cupboard is bare, but money is no object when it comes to their cabinet perks . . . like the fact that taxpayers paid over a million dollars to fly the Prime Minister’s limo to India, and that the Globemaster fleet was used to carry this personal Taj Mahal taxi,” NDP MP Charlie Angus said.
“India offered high security armoured vehicles,” he said. “It was good enough for the prime minister of Australia, but not good enough for our leader.”
But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird rejected opposition criticism and pointed to India’s own tragic history of losing prime ministers to violence as justification to ship the vehicles from Canada.
“The people of India have paid a very heavy price when it comes to the war on terror. They have lost two prime ministers in the last 25 years,” Baird said in question period, noting that many others were killed in terrorist attacks in Mumbai. “When it comes to the national security and the security of our prime minister, we will take advice from the RCMP over the NDP every single time.”
Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 by a member of her security detail. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, succeeded her as prime minister until his own assassination in 1991.
In an unprecedented move, the RCMP brought an armoured Cadillac and SUV to India to transport Harper in safety during his visit to four Indian cities last November.
The C-17 left Canada on Oct. 29, 2012 — six days before Harper arrived in the country — and returned Nov. 10, 2012, a day after his final stop. During its time away, the C-17 flew 48.5 hours, according to a document tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.
The vehicle transfer came to light at Harper’s first stop in Agra, India, when a Chevy Suburban SUV with Ontario licence plates was used to take the prime minister and his wife, Laureen, to the Taj Mahal.
Later in the day, as Harper arrived in New Delhi, a Cadillac was waiting at the bottom of the steps as he exited the aircraft. The two vehicles were then moved to subsequent stops in Chandigarh and Bangalore.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Canadians don’t object to spending to ensure the security of the prime minister or governor-general but he questioned why cars from Canada were needed in this case.
“India is a country where their ministers and others travel in armoured cars. There is a fleet of armoured vehicles in India,” Rae said. “It’s a little hard for me to understand why that was necessary.”
Last November, RCMP officials declined to comment on the prime minister’s security arrangements or the specific reason they flew his vehicles to India.
However, other officials privately pointed the finger at the hosts, saying local Indian authorities refused to guarantee adequate transportation for the prime minister during his movements within the country.