Oda’s fall into an ethical ditch
Usually, when people witness firsthand the suffering and injustice meted out to the world’s poorest people, the common reaction is a time of sincere introspection.
We see it all the time, among people of every age — especially those who have signed up for a stint of charity or relief work abroad. When they return to their normal, comfortable lives, people who have confronted true poverty and injustice become more frugal themselves, more compassionate, more aware of their own privileged lives. Often, even a little guilty.
Why did this not happen for Bev Oda?
Upon the announcement of her resignation as the federal minister of international co-operation, Oda made herself unavailable to the press, but did post an odd comment on her website: “As the minister for international co-operation, I have had the opportunity to witness the hardships of the world’s most vulnerable peoples and have witnessed the great compassion of Canadians for those in need.”
Compassion from Canadians, but a curious detachment from the former minister.
Oda needed no introduction to the harshness of history. Her mother was interned during the Second World War, when the Canadian government was rounding up people of Japanese descent, and confiscating their property. Her father started out as a labourer on a sugar beet farm. She must have understood some of their experience and some of their sacrifice for her and her education.
It seems a prime background for a life of political activity.
But the compassion, the drive to bring more justice to our social makeup seem absent. Quite the contrary, as a minister of the Crown, her resumé speaks more of scandal and acquisitiveness than generosity.
It’s not just the luxury hotel upgrade, the $16 glasses of orange juice, or the $1,000-a-day limousine service in 2012 that mark her career. Oda has been suspected of unseemly behaviour around power and money for years.
In 2006, just before the government was to announce a major review of broadcasting rules, Oda planned a fundraising dinner for broadcast executives.
When the event became broadly known, it was cancelled, but her office had already taken a number of donations from business concerns who were about to be affected by changes in government policy.
Oda’s penchant for luxury travel at taxpayer expense likewise goes back to 2006, when she attempted to bill the government for $5,500 in limousine rides to attend the Juno Awards. After the Liberals raised a stink about it, she paid back $2,200.
In 2011, she was investigated for the kind of activities that would land other people in jail.
After a long campaign of pressure from the opposition, she admitted to directing a staff member to add a hand-writtten annotation to a memo that had already been approved and signed. The annotation added the word “not” in the margin of a recommendation for funding for faith-based advocate for social justice KAIROS. “Not” was a direct reversal of approved process. It is contempt of Parliament.
She was saved from expulsion and official disgrace by the fall of government in a non-confidence vote. And she won the following election, was reinstated in cabinet completely free from having to learn from her career’s near-death experience.
The rest of her tenure is the stuff of legend. The featherbedding only became more extreme, her pattern of denial followed by half-hearted apology more predictable.
Eventually, even she had to acknowledge she was a political liability, and two weeks ago — depending on your sources — she either resigned or was told to leave.
As of the end of this month, Parliament will no longer have Bev Oda as MP and an ethical black hole.
It’s a pity. Someone who truly could understand the gap between those who have much and those who have very little might have made a difference.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.