Adam Goldenberg is a Kirby-Simon Fellow at Yale Law School. He was Michael Ignatieff’s speechwriter. Follow him on Twitter at @adamgoldenberg.
Bev Oda’s resignation had as much to do with abortion as it did with foreign aid.
She left with neither a bang nor a whimper. After eight years in Parliament, six as a minister, she was simply gone, vanished, disappeared. Pushed out of the helicopter of political expediency, perhaps, or fed to the sharks beneath the Cabinet table.
Since her OJ trial, the international cooperation minister’s prospects, long a stretch, had turned to pulp. She could have resigned herself to the backbenches. She resigned her seat instead.
Her departure is no cause for celebration; it says much more about our politics than it does about Ms. Oda. Our standards have become so superficial that, where once we expected accountability, we demand damage control, instead.
Ministers are now mouthpieces. We judge them by their spin in Question Period and their sound bites in scrums. The federal Cabinet is so flimsy, so insubstantial, that a six-year veteran can be felled by a single glass of $16 orange juice.
Sure, Ms. Oda’s sins against parsimony were several, and accumulated over time. But she was, by the Harper government’s standards, a reasonably accomplished minister. At the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Ms. Oda presided over major shifts in Canada’s foreign aid policy; our help now goes to a smaller set of countries than before, and is less restricted once it gets there. Policy shifts like these may not grab headlines, but their significance outstrips their sizzle. But how much thought was given to Ms. Oda’s record before the Prime Minister showed her the door?
No, this was not a governing decision; it was a communications strategy. In that, it was anything but unusual. To smirk at this week’s turn of events is to take pleasure, if unwittingly, in the government’s way of doing business. Surely the banality of sheeple deserves less than mirth.
If the Conservatives’ opponents cannot resist raising a toast to Ms. Oda’s misfortune, they should take note of who is standing with them.
The government backbench and the Tory base will be glad to see her go, not because they value ministerial accountability, but because they object to the expenditure of public money on, well, just about anything. That includes MP pensions, per-vote subsidies for political parties, public broadcasting, seasonal Employment Insurance benefits—and orange juice, too.
Another group of Ms. Oda’s antagonists deserves special notice: the anti-choice crowd. Few, if any, organizations—and that includes the opposition parties—have spent as much time calling for her head as the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), which cheered her resignation in a statement on Wednesday:
“Oda has been notorious in her pro-abortion position,” it declared. “In 2010, Oda spoke against the stated decision of her leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, when he said that Canada would not pay for abortions in developing countries.” For that alone, said CLC National President Jim Hughes, “she should have been asked to resign.”
Whether or not it was his intention to do so, Mr. Harper has placated his pro-life supporters by sacking a minister who had the temerity to suggest that women in poor countries should enjoy the right to choose.
Still, one wonders whether Ms. Oda would have yet survived had she been quicker on her feet in the Commons, swifter in a scrum, or more charismatic on camera. After all, the well-toned Peter MacKay—he of the rugby pitch and the potato patch—is all but certain to stay in the Ministry, if not at National Defence, despite the fact that his gaffes will cost the taxpayer billions more than Ms. Oda’s stay at the Savoy.
And for the sheer comedy of Conservative Cabinet-making, look no further than Ms. Oda’s replacement: Julian Fantino, the erstwhile military procurement minister, whose single achievement in government has been to turn the slow-simmering F-35 fiasco into a full-blown boondoggle, the priciest in Canadian history.
For him: a promotion. For her: a pension. And, given that Ms. Oda was punished for abusing the public purse, it is worth noting that Mr. Fantino already collects several of the latter.
We should not celebrate Ms. Oda’s ouster because there was no honour in it, no redemption, no import. She did not take responsibility for malfeasance on her watch. She neither stood on principle nor fell on her sword. In the end, she was not even fired for cause. She simply left, with a one-day story in her wake, a summery execution in the slow heat of July.
It would be naïve to imagine that Ms. Oda was let go for her views on abortion, any more than she was fired for her record as Minister of International Cooperation. Not in today’s Ottawa, where Ms. Oda’s defence of contraception could not kill her career, and neither would her management of foreign aid.