The Commons: Ms. Oda has something to say

(About something else entirely)

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. On the third day, she did stand. Bev Oda did rise up on her own two feet. She did speak publicly in response to a question posed by a Member of Parliament on the opposition side of the House. She did fulfill, in this regard, her responsibility as a minister of the crown in this democracy of ours.

Alas, it was nothing to do with the decision to reject a funding request from a group named KAIROS. It was nothing to do with how that decision was explained. Nothing to do with how a relevant document came to be so sloppily edited. Nothing to do with how Ms. Oda had explained that editing. Indeed, barring a sudden turn tomorrow, it seems Ms. Oda will escape this week without having to answer any of the questions that arose out of her statement to the House on Monday afternoon.

The government swears she has been responsible in this regard, but they won’t let her take responsibility. The government applauds her abilities, but won’t let her stand. The government expounds on her courage, but they won’t let her speak.

“I’ve been very clear to my ministers that they are responsible for the decisions they make,” the Prime Minister apparently said today.

In fairness, he did not say specifically “when” or “how” his ministers are so responsible. And we are clearly now at a point where only by asking with the correct combination of passwords can we expect to get at the truth.

“Mr. Speaker, the facts in the case are clear,” Michael Ignatieff boldly ventured this afternoon, daring to employ the Prime Minister’s favourite claim. “The minister deceived Parliament, and then someone altered a document so that she could pretend that her officials supported a decision when in fact they did not.”

As he had the day before, he wagged in the general direction of the decidedly present Ms. Oda. “In our democracy, the rules are clear. When a minister misleads Parliament, that minister resigns,” he declared. “Why is she still in cabinet?

The Prime Minister was away, so a man with no responsibility in any of this stood in his place. “Mr. Speaker, the Minister of International Cooperation has been very clear,” John Baird countered, “that she is the one who made the decision not to provide a $7 million grant to this particular Canadian non-governmental organization. This is the kind of responsibility that ministers are expected to take each and every day. When we spend money on foreign aid, we expect the very best for success in the developing world. The minister made the right decision. She made the correct decision. I believe she made a courageous decision and did the right thing.”

How, why or in what way, Mr. Baird would not say. And what he could say, he had now already said. Ms. Oda was “very clear.” Ms. Oda has “always been very clear.” Ms. Oda has said “very clearly.” She made a “courageous decision.” She made the “right decision.” She made a “difficult decision.” She did the “right thing.”

To keep things interesting he managed references to “sponsorship” and the “coalition.” At one point, perhaps boring himself, he seemed to slip. “Only in this country would a minister get in trouble for not making a $7 million grant,” he posited, sounding rather unpatriotic.

The opposition eventually squared on Ms. Oda.

“Mr. Speaker, we know where the Prime Minister and the government House leader stand on that regime’s attack on KAIROS. Both have condoned the misleading of the House. Both condone the contempt for committees. Both continue to condone the forging of documents,” yelped Liberal Wayne Easter. “Will the minister herself please help us out? Did she forge the documents all by herself on her own, or was she ordered to do so and asked to lie about it by the Prime Minister’s Office?”

Mr. Baird stood and declared that Mr. Easter should be “ashamed” of himself.

“The Minister of International Cooperation fails to stand up in the House and answer to the Canadian people yet she continues to arrive on the Hill in her limo and accept all the parliamentary perks, cars, drivers, staff, a hot line to the PMO. This is the direct opposite of ministerial accountability,” Mr. Easter came back. “Will she now accept responsibility, do the right thing, and resign?”

Mr. Baird stood and declared that Ms. Oda had “more integrity in the tip of her finger than the member for Malpeque does.” We were now apparently in a finger-tip-measuring contest.

A short while later, Ms. Oda was given an opportunity to demonstrate just how upstanding the tips of her fingers were. Or at least that she was still capable of standing.

Liberal Yasmin Ratansi rose to note reports of delays in aid delivery to Haiti. She wondered if the Minister of International Cooperation might update the House on the government’s efforts.

And lo, here Ms. Oda did rise, the Liberals howling at the miracle before them. “Mr. Speaker,” she said, “I am proud to report to Canadians on our work in Haiti.”

Ms. Ratansi was delighted too. “Mr. Speaker, now that the minister is finally answering questions, I have a few specific questions for her on KAIROS,” she said with her next opportunity. “Did the minister originally sign the document that approved the funding for KAIROS before later rescinding it? Who ordered her to make the change? Who specifically added the handwritten word “not” to the document, and why did she not reveal all of this to the committee last December?”

Here, again, came Mr. Baird. “Mr. Speaker, the minister has always been credible here,” he claimed.

Though not so credible it seems that she can say so herself.

The Stats. KAIROS, 17 questions. Tunisia and crime, four questions each. International travel, three questions each. The CBC, ethics, food prices and cyber security, two questions each. Haiti, immigration and Iran, one question each.

John Baird, 18 answers. Bob Dechert, five answers. Lawrence Cannon, four answers. Keith Ashfield, Jason Kenney, John Duncan and Vic Toews, two answers each. Bev Oda, Pierre Poilievre, Stockwell Day and Daniel Petit, one answer each.




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