Former Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? What more can you say about the woman whose file included the distribution of foreign aid to needy children all over the world, but seemed to get much more press for her notoriously expensive tastes in hotels and orange juice?
If that had been her only crime, than we would probably be sadder to see her leaving Harper’s cabinet table. After all, there are precious few women or minorities with moderately conservative views surrounding our Prime Minister at the moment.
But none of us on the progressive side of politics feels remotely fond of this strange little politician from Northern Ontario (Thunder Bay!?) and I suspect, even among conservatives, very few will miss her.
The reasons have virtually nothing to do with the understandable, but vaguely silly, reaction to her amazing ability to spend taxpayer’s money on luxuries while in office. To be fair, every minister in this country enjoys similar perks, and many of them in the Harper government seem to be have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, at one time or another. Rather, it speaks to something more fundamental that seems to be disappearing in our once model democracy: ministerial accountability.
A couple of years ago (December 2010) the opposition were calling for Minister Oda’s head, over quite a different matter. The faith based charity KAIROS has been in the business of promoting social and ecological justice through various international programs active all over the world, for years. In 2009, the Harper government withdrew funding for a program that had been approved and developed with the help of CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency), despite years of federal support for similar proposals from the organization.
Why the sudden, inexplicable change of heart? The official reasons given by Oda’s office are such crap that I won’t insult my reader’s intelligence by repeating them here. The real reason appears to be something far more insidious and were revealed by an ultra pro-Israel speech given by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney while on a state visit to Israel back in 2009, in which he smeared KAIROS by claiming that it was anti-Semitic for taking “ a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign” against Israel. Comments that he maintains to this day, despite a complete lack of evidence of any kind. Yet more proof, if you needed any, of Harper’s shameless Israel bias.
KAIROS had, of course, never done anything of the sort, although they had made mild criticisms of certain Israeli policies in the past, and were as shocked as anyone to discover that they hated Jews.
As if that weren’t bad enough, in 2010, someone leaked a document implicating Minister Oda in what is arguably a massive contempt of Parliament. The document showed that the Minister had signed off on the funding for KAIROS, but that later, in a heavy-handed attempt to reverse the decision, she or somebody else had simply hand-written the word “not” into the letter.
Initially Oda denied having doctored the letter, stating that she had no idea how the mysterious “not” had gotten there. Later she sang a very different tune to the House of Commons, stating that it had been her all along.
Sadly, the contempt action filed against her was never settled by the last Speaker of the House, due to the 2011 election. Meaning we will never know if Oda was guilty of a serious offence against parliament (Yours truly thinks that a guilty verdict was almost certain).
That has not stopped others, including Elizabeth May from speculating on who was really behind this scandal. In a controversial blog entry last week, in which she half-heartedly defended Oda, May made it clear that she believed that Harper’s PMO fingerprints were all over this ugly business, and that the PM basically turned Oda into his scapegoat by framing her for a crime she hadn’t committed.
In any case, the end result, as May put it, did harm to much more than Canadians. “The victims of this fraud are not just in Canada. They are the people in developing world whose projects were not supported. In a larger sense, we are all victims of this fraud.”
In hindsight, it does seem like Oda was never really on top of her files or fully in control of her own ministry. Then again, apart from a handful of ministers, none of these “servants of the crown” seems to be able to escape the tight leash Harper has imposed on them.
They would do well to remember that the term “responsible government” in Canada means that they are accountable to the Parliament and not to the Prime Minister. No matter how powerful he may be.
Photo courtesy of Mark Hillary via Flickr