Department of National Defence Made no Promises Regarding Airport Expansion

Robert Thomas

When it comes to the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport and plans to expand the airstrip, the Department of National Defence (DND) never once guaranteed they would make use of an expanded facility nor lobbied City Hall in the matter. And any other interpretation is incorrect.
That’s the word out of National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa.

In response to interview requests directly to National Defence Headquarters, the military answered numerous questions and clarified their role in lobbying, if any, and potential use of an upgraded Moose Jaw Municipal Airport.

After providing DND Headquarters with documentation, the matter was deferred to Lt. Jenn Halliwell, to be answered locally, while in consultation with Ottawa to insure clarity.

Asked if DND or any of its members broke any policies regarding non-interference in local political affairs in relation to the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport, the response was that the military had not.

"15 Wing has not been involved in lobbying for the municipal airport. We looked into the potential use and provided answers to the city regarding that potential use with the understanding that our inquiry and answers provided were in no way confirmation that we would use the airport even if expanded,” Halliwell wrote, adding “it was looked at as an option for modifying our operations but that was not a guarantee of use. We also looked at many other airports as well. As a learning institution with a flight safety minded operation we are always looking at ways to enhance our operations. Any local airport that was modified to meet operating requirements would be looked at for potential use of training and in case of emergency.”

It should be noted that under a long running DND policy, the military is not allowed to become involved in or influence local political affairs. Members can be disciplined for doing so.

“However, our current operations at 15 Wing allow us to safely fly up to 120 student missions per day and within our full training plan, we can graduate the required number of student pilots mandated by the RCAF,” the emailed response stated.

Asked since 15 Wing presently has no plans to make use of an upgraded municipal airport should they not inform the City? The answer was that there had been no policy change.

“15 Wing looked into the potential use of an expanded municipal airport and provided answers to the city regarding that potential use with the understanding that our inquiry and answers provided were in no way confirmation that we would use the airport even if it was expanded. Our position has not changed,” Halliwell stated in an email response.

Regarding a November 20, 2014 letter written by Lt Colonel Brian Murray and if it did not show a conflict of interest or an appearance of, DND responded that it showed the opposite.

“No. As stated in the memo from 15 Wing Chief of Staff (Potential 15 Wing use of the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport for Military Pilot Training, Dated November 20, 2014) ‎- the information provided did not imply a commitment that we would use the airport even if it was expanded. We do have an interest in the expansion (as we would any local airport) but that is because we would need to ensure safe flight ops for our pilots, who would be sharing the skies with more aircraft and also as part of our constant flight safety evaluations to see if there would be a benefit to conducting some training off site of 15 Wing. Again, we are already able to safely conduct all required training and meet our training objectives using 15 Wing. Therefore, an expanded municipal airport is not necessary for our operations,” the email replied.

Asked about DND’s relationship with Moose Jaw Municipal Airport Working Group (MJAAWG), the military’s email responded that a record check could find no link with DND members in “any formal capacity.”

An October 26, 2017 report to Executive Committee stated “They (MJAAWG) developed key partnerships with community stakeholders, including CAE, and DND (15 Wings) among others.”

“As with DND personnel, a member can be involved with such projects as long as it is not as their position in the military and with the understanding that they do not speak for the organization,” the emailed reply stated.

Responding to CAE’s involvement and whether or not it was on DND’s behalf, the response was that they were completely independent.

“To clarify, CAE is a DND contractor, but does not speak for DND. We work together to train RCAF pilots but CAE and its views are completely separate from 15 Wing,” Halliwell responded, referring any further questions to CAE.

In an email response, CAE denied any direct involvement to the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport lobbying effort, stating that any employees, specifically local public relations director Maryse Carmichael, involved were acting as private citizens.

The question put to CAE corporate headquarters in Montreal was – is Ms Carmichael lobbying on CAE’s behalf?

“No.  She (Maryse Carmichael) is part of the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport Advisory Committee as a private citizen. This committee is not directly linked to CAE. You can get more details from the committee which has an objective to promote the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport and its possibilities as an economic driver for the region,” CAE’s Director of Global Communications, Pascale Alpha, replied in an email.

Asked the following question: "Was CAE lobbying on behalf of the 15 Wing NATO flight training school or themselves or a third party?” Alpha responded “Not applicable.”

Regarding if DND was aware of the lobbying effort Alpha responded “As this has nothing to do with CAE, I would not be able to answer you.”

Email requests for comment by Maryse Carmichael were not responded to.
Operations at the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport were turned over to a local group MJAAWG to set up and operate the facility as an airport authority in November 2017.

Under that agreement the City of Moose Jaw provide a $500,000 grant to MJAAWG. The funds would be used to secure financing from upper levels of government for expanding the runway and upgrading facilities.