Bev Oda: bad habits of various kinds

There’s a Marriott that offers smoking rooms at half the price just across the river from the Grange

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

Just when you think the Bev Oda expenses scandal couldn’t get any more, well, odious–it does. Now it turns out that in addition to her lust for luxury, another factor may have been at work in her decision to upgrade hotels at taxpayer expense: addiction.

The bare facts alone are bad enough. Last summer, the Minister of International Development was attending a conference on international immunization at the five star Grange Hotel St. Pauls in London, England, when she decided the conference accommodations–which included a swimming pool, full spa and luxury rooms with king-size beds–were simply inadequate. So she left her staff to suffer in the conference hotel and booked herself into the ultra-swanky Savoy up the road, a hotel favoured by Hollywood celebrities and Saudi royalty. As if that wasn’t enough, she also hired a car and driver, at the expense of roughly $1000 a day, to ferry her back and fourth, even though the Savoy is just four subway stops away on the London tube (that’s a journey time of under twenty minutes and a cost of less than five bucks each way). When her abuse of power first came to light on Monday, Oda was utterly unrepentant. She accused her critics of being “extremist” and grudgingly paid back the difference in hotel bills but not the cost of her car and driver. Then yesterday, she thought better of that, and offered a “full and unreserved apology,” for which she received a standing ovation from her fellow Tories in the Commons. It’s a sad day for Canadian politics when all it takes to earn the adulation of your peers is to reluctantly apologize for ripping off taxpayers only after you’ve been caught in the act. But wait, it gets worse. According to a theory floated yesterday in the House by Liberal MP Scott Andrews, the real reason Oda switched hotels was not just about luxury, but “her not being able to get a smoking room on site.” The minister’s press secretary refuses to elaborate on the reason why Oda switched her reservation, but, as everyone in Ottawa well knows, she enjoys any excuse to hack a dart.

If Oda chooses to endanger her own health by chain smoking into her late fifties that’s her affair–but expecting Canadian taxpayers to support her life-threatening habit while attending an international conference on global healthcare? That’s just downright reprehensible. And before you leap to the conclusion that Oda was simply being a slave to her habit (rather than her lust for the good things in life) by checking into the Savoy, be advised: there’s a Marriott that offers smoking rooms at half the price just across the river from the Grange. In other words, she had the option to puff in peace while saving Canadians money and she chose to waste it instead. That’s assuming, of course, that you agree providing a plush spot for Oda to smoke is in fact a waste of tax-payer funds, and think maybe that money might have been better spent on, oh I dunno, maintaining Canada’s commitment to foreign aid. Then again perhaps Oda feels her department can afford to splurge a little, having announced deeps cuts of roughly $377 million to the Canadian International Development Agency over the next three years. Consider for a moment the hypocrisy involved in cutting public funds to the world’s poorest and sickest people while using them to avail yourself of a posh spot to suck back a cancer stick or twenty.

That Oda only admitted she’d done wrong after two days of pressure from the media and the opposition just goes to show the Minister is every bit as self-destructive as her habit would suggest. Let’s hope she does what’s good for her–and quits.