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$1-million tab for Harper’s armoured cars in India needed for security: Baird

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons, Tuesday, January 29, 2013 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Conservative government is defending the $1-million cost of flying armoured vehicles to India for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying it was a security decision by the RCMP.

Mr. Harper's use of an armour-plated car and SUV bearing Canadian licence plates during his November tour of Agra, Bangalore, Chandigarh and New Delhi prompted New Democrats to formally inquire about the cost.

The final tally of $1,061,448 was produced this week as parliamentarians returned to Ottawa following a six-week break.

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The cost included $31,356 in personnel travel and a little more than $1-million for the use of the massive Canadian Forces C-17 Globemaster heavy-lift transport, which logged 48.5 hours of airtime flying the two vehicles to India.

Following an assessment of operational requirements and the threat environment, "the RCMP determined there were no appropriate vehicles available in India," the government said in its official response to the NDP query.

"Further information on the selection criteria for armoured vehicles cannot be provided as it could compromise the security measures put in place for protecting the prime minister."

That didn't placate NDP critic Charlie Angus, who used the daily question period Tuesday to ask why the Conservative government was willing to spend so much on Mr. Harper's "personal Taj Mahal taxi."

An Indian government official confirmed during Mr. Harper's visit that it had offered an armoured Mercedes Benz for his use. Australian Prime Julia Gillard used local vehicles when she visited India last January.

"It was good enough for the prime minister of Australia, but not good enough for our leader," said Angus. "Where is the accountability?"

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird responded that India has lost two prime ministers in the last 25 years and faced a major terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008.

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"The people in India have paid a very heavy price when it comes to the war on terror," said Mr. Baird.

"When we look to the security of our prime minister, we consult the experts, those expects in security. And when it comes to the national security and the security of our prime minister, we will take the advice from the RCMP over the NDP every single time."

Green party Leader Elizabeth May said personal security costs for the prime minister have ballooned since Mr. Harper came to office and she'd like more transparency on why and whether its necessary.

"The implicit message is we didn't think the Indian government could provide us with vehicles that were as of good quality as what we could bring from Canada," Ms. May added.

Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, said security comes with costs and he was hesitant to second guess the RCMP, but the availability of armoured cars – or lack thereof – seemed puzzling.

"There is a fleet of armoured vehicles in India," said Rae. "So on this particular case of the vehicles having to be flown over, it's a little hard for me to understand why that was necessary."

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