Stephen Harper learned his political lessons from the wiliest of teachers. Like Jean Chrétien did in his tenure, this Prime Minister protects misbehaving ministers to deny victories to political enemies.
So it’s no surprise that Harper is defending the indefensible Bev Oda. Harper correctly contends that federal ministers are responsible for how public money is spent.
But it’s no less true that with responsibility comes accountability. No matter who or
dered or crudely inserted the critical “not” in the KAIROS funding document, it was Oda’s responsibility to approve or deny $7 million in funding to the ecumenical church group.
Where she utterly and fatally failed was in shirking accountability.
By any reasonable standard, Oda’s actions were reprehensible. In doctoring the CIDA document and then misleading MPs by dumping the decision on civil servants, she rode roughshod over those Canadian values of truth, transparency and courage of convictions Conservatives claim as their own.
Her behaviour isn’t surprising. Hiding behind bureaucrats is a ruling party pattern that guts the Prime Minister’s sturdy, if ultimately destructive, Oda defence.
Tony Clement ducked for cover in the same way last summer when he falsely led Canadians to believe that StatsCan approved junking the long-form census.
Munir Sheikh skewered that convenient untruth by resigning as the country’s top statistician rather than ruin his reputation by lying to insulate the industry minister.
Clement, like Oda, tried and failed to take advantage of Ottawa’s fluid notion of accountability. Ministers rush to microphones with good news; but mandarins are marched forward when headlines turn ugly.
Oda’s situational ethics and the Prime Minister’s willingness to tolerate them are the most accurate measure yet of how power has already corrupted the Conservatives. In opposition, Harper promised accountability — in office he’s covering his tracks.
In the Oda fiasco, even a blurred trail leads to a dangerous place. It’s a colossal stretch to believe that a government this rigidly controlled would leave a funding decision this sensitive to a minister as poorly regarded as Oda.
How sensitive is it? In a 2009 Jerusalem speech, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney boasted that stripping KAIROS funding was the result of zero Conservative tolerance for anti-Semitism.
Even if right in one way, Kenney was wrong in many others. There’s no evidence of hatred in decades of KAIROS humanitarian service and it’s no more reasonable to assume that criticism of Israel’s actions as a state is anti-Semitic than it is to label opposition to Iran’s nuclear program as anti-Muslim.
Kenney later adjusted his explanation to parrot the official Oda line that funding was lost because KAIROS didn’t meet CIDA objectives.
But that, too, was wrong.
Proven by the document Oda now admits she ordered to be altered, development agency executives recommended extending support to an established and effective umbrella group that includes many of Canada’s most respected large and small churches.
Why “not” was so ineptly added to flip-flop CIDA’s advice is a matter of conjecture, embedded in almost unconditional Conservative support for Israel.
None of this changes the straw Harper clings to in Oda’s defence. How taxpayer dollars are spent is a ministerial responsibility.
But all of it leads to a damning conclusion. Schooled by a skilled predecessor, Harper is protecting a minister who twisted truth into fiction, ordered the falsification of an official document and then hid behind bureaucrats.
Accountability demands Oda resign or be fired.
James Travers is a syndicated columnist for The Toronto Star.