“Flying Taj Mahal”

Ever quick with a quip – see “a proof is a proof” – Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien labelled Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s fancy new plane in the early 1990s the “flying Taj Mahal”. Chrétien’s moniker stuck, forever labelling the Airbus A-310 a wasteful perk of office. 

For 30 years to that point, various prime ministers – and accompanying staff media – had flown in an ageing Boeing 707 plane. By the early ‘90s this Cold War relic was dangerous. Historian J.D. M Stewart said it was in such poor condition that London’s Heathrow airport would not allow it to land unless the prime minister was onboard.[1]

Since its first use, politicians and media pundits have tossed around the phrase “flying Taj Mahal” (and its Earth-bound variations) as shorthand for what they believe are expensive vanity projects paid by taxpayers. 

In 2013, Chrétien – who was clearly no longer concerned about airborne extravagance – joined Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in flying the “flying Taj Mahal” to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela in late 2013. 

Five years later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the “flying Taj Mahal” on his much-derided photo-op trip to India. He almost didn’t make it. One report has it that a mechanical issue with the plane meant Trudeau was almost late to see the real Taj Mahal. 

[1] J.D.M. Stewart, Being Prime Minister, Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2018.

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