Opposition vows to turn up heat on Oda

Opposition parties are vowing to turn the Oda affair into an excruciating toothache for the Harper government even as a poll suggests half of Canadians are numb to the controversy.

OTTAWA — Opposition parties are vowing to turn the Oda affair into an excruciating toothache for the Harper government even as a poll suggests half of Canadians are numb to the controversy.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll suggested 50 per cent of those surveyed had heard nothing about the document-altering scandal swirling around International Co-operation minister Bev Oda.

Overall, 32 per cent said the minister should resign from cabinet, 10 per cent said she should stay and eight per cent were unsure.

The results have to be disappointing for opposition parties, who’ve been relentlessly hammering away at the issue for two weeks.

The Liberals and New Democrats plan to turn up the heat on the Oda affair once Parliament resumes.

“I can just say to the government, it’s going to be the dentist’s chair on this issue for the weeks to come,” said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.

“We are not going to let up on this question, we are not going to allow a minister to mislead the House of Commons and to not tell the truth to Canadians . . . and simply get away with it.”

Rae dismissed as Tory spin suggestions that Canadians don’t care about the complicated tale of a doctored memo from Oda’s officials over funding for a church-based foreign aid group.

“We should not underestimate Canadians’ interest in honesty, character, good government,” he said.

Opposition parties maintain Oda lied about the decision not to renew funding for Kairos by repeatedly claiming it was a decision of the Canadian International Development Agency.

CIDA officials actually recommended that the group’s application for funding be accepted. But an internal memo, signed by Oda and two top officials, was altered to add the word “not,” leaving the impression that the officials concurred with the decision to not fund Kairos.

Following an unusual tongue-lashing by Commons Speaker Peter Milliken two weeks ago, Oda admitted the word “not” was added to the memo by an aide, at her direction. She had previously said she didn’t know who added the “not.”

The Tories have subsequently maintained that the alteration and Oda’s signature were added by an aide, at Oda’s behest, because the minister was out of town. They’ve insisted it was handled in a routine manner.

Rae and his NDP counterpart, Paul Dewar both said they intend to use a foreign affairs committee inquiry to intensify efforts to get to the bottom of the affair.

And they reiterated their belief that Oda was acting on instructions from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.

“This is not about Bev Oda. This is about the prime minister and his office and how they control things,” said Rae.

He referred to Harper’s inner circle as “25-year-old jihadis” who are “ideologically attuned in one area, who are fanatically loyal to the government . . . and who are given responsibility far above their abilities.”

Dewar agreed with Rae’s analysis, if not his choice of words. He said decisions are being directed by PMO aides who suffer from a “deep ignorance” about foreign affairs and are following “a political agenda.”

“If we look at the influence of the prime minister’s office, I think it’s very clear that they have a hand in everything,” he said.

The telephone poll of just over 1,000 Canadians was conducted Feb. 17-20 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.