An RCMP officer watches over the armoured Cadillac limousine shipped by the RCMP to India on Nov. 5, 2012. Normally, host countries provide secure vehicles for the PM when he travels but, in India this week, the RCMP decided to bring ship vehicles from Canada to ferry Prime Minster Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen around Agra, New Delhi, Chandrigarh and Bangalore. (DAVID AKIN/QMI Agency)
OTTAWA – Opposition parties are demanding answers about the decision to ship armoured vehicles to India to transport Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Harper is currently on a six-day tour of the world’s most populous democracy.
"If I was the Indian government, I would be pretty outraged that this prime minister thinks that the largest democracy in the world can't handle his needs," NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said. "He needed two limos. What, one for him, the other one for his ego?"
In Agra, India, Harper was ferried to events in a black Suburban with Ontario license plates. Ontario plates were also on the black Cadillac limousine Harper is using in New Delhi.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the RCMP is responsible for security decisions.
“The deployment of RCMP assets is based on operational considerations, including the safety of officers and the safety of the prime minister,” Toews told the Commons on Monday. “I rely on the RCMP, and I trust its judgment.”
But interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said this explanation doesn’t go far enough.
“The RCMP can ask for what they want to ask for but it’s up to the prime minister to make a decision as to how it’s going to go forward,” Rae said. “I think flying the cars over seemed quite unnecessary.”
The U.S. Secret Service routinely ships its own motorcade vehicles abroad, including to Canada, for use by the president. The Secret Service boasts that "The Beast" is the most secure and sophisticated car on the planet.
When the U.S. ships "The Beast" abroad, it travels on U.S. Air Force C-17s.
Canada acquired its own fleet of C-17s in 2007 which can hold a tank or a couple of armoured cars.
The budget for the RCMP security detail assigned to protect the PM and other VIPs has jumped from about $10.7 million in 2007 to $18 million this year. Part of the rise in cost is the frequency and duration of the PM's overseas trips.
But cost and logistics aside, the use of Canadian vehicles in India raises questions about an apparent difference in the security risk assessment for Harper's India trip this year compared to Harper's 2009 trip to India.
In 2009, when Harper visited Mumbai, New Delhi and Amritsar, Indian security agencies provided Harper with vehicles.
The RCMP has used cars provisioned by England, Russia, Australia and China when Harper travelled in those countries.
Before this India trip, only in Afghanistan and in Haiti have the RCMP flown in Canadian armoured cars for Harper's use.