The single most contentious issue plaguing Premier Alison Redford and her party during the recent election campaign was without question the infamous “no-meet committee” scandal.
The Progressive Conservatives managed to dodge a bullet on election day — with some “strategic” help from the left and a few “bozo eruptions” on the right — but have they absorbed the message?
Time will tell, but we Albertans ought to hold this new government to account.
We must demand integrity and honour from our elected officials, at every level, resisting the brand of cynicism and shoulder-shrugging that too often accompanies breaches of the public’s trust.
We should also be collectively outraged by another recent political scandal involving federal International Development Minister Bev Oda.
Last summer, while attending a conference on international immunization in London, England, Oda opted out of her five-star conference hotel, and booked herself into the ultra-swanky Savoy — an opulent luxury hotel often frequented by Hollywood’s elite and Saudi’s royalty.
She also hired a car and driver to ferry her back and forth to the conference, at an expense of roughly $1,000 a day!
When the story initially broke, Oda denied any wrongdoing, adding that all Treasury Board guidelines were followed when she filed her trip expenses.
She was utterly unrepentant, accusing the media and her critics of being “extremist,” while the controversy continued to escalate.
She later admitted under fire that the costs were in fact unacceptable and never should have been charged to taxpayers, apologizing “unreservedly.”
She repaid the difference in cost between the two hotels, the cancellation fee incurred, and a $16 orange juice at the Savoy (totalling $1,353.81) — refusing, however, to repay the limo costs (estimated at $3,000).
Eventually, she paid back the limo charges as well, but not before a full-scale opposition attack on the beleaguered minister, who seems to have lost touch with reality, fancying herself more royal celebrity than public servant.
The whole incident is wholly disgraceful.
Oda’s apology isn’t worth the breath it took to utter it; she’s just sorry she got caught.
Had this been the first time Oda acted so disrespectfully with the public’s trust, one might be tempted to extend forgiveness, and a second chance.
But scandal follows Oda like a heat-seeking missile.
In her first 15 months in cabinet, she racked up a bill of $17,000 on limousine services alone, including around $6,000 over four days in Halifax to attend the Juno Awards in 2006.
Then in 2009, Oda was again at the centre of controversy involving the cancellation of a long-standing Canadian International Development Agency grant, wherein she was accused of doctoring documents, deceiving committees and misleading Parliament.
Nothing stuck, since a federal election was called before anyone could get to the bottom of it, but we seem to have enough of a dossier on this woman to strike her out of the trust game for good.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki once said that: “Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed.”
What we know of her appalling choices certainly makes her seem less concerned with bettering others’ lives than with securing her personal status and comfort. And just imagine the expenses and abuses we don’t know about?
This was no ordinary mistake, for which an honest apology can be accepted.
Her repeated abuse of our trust, and ongoing pilfering of the public purse for personal aggrandizement, disqualifies her for the sacred trust of public office — let alone the title of “Honourable Minister.”
We’re all human. Mistakes, missteps, or an authentic faux pas we forgive, when repentance seems genuine and sincere.
Oda’s real downfall is her mindset of entitlement. Thinking that her position in cabinet somehow entitles her to lavish perks and free-wheeling opulence at the expense of hard-working taxpayers — most of whom struggle daily to raise families and make ends meet every month.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has only one reasonable course of action going forward: call for Oda’s resignation sooner than later. It’s the only meaningful move that respects an electorate tired of being disrespected.
It only takes a minute of our time to hold the prime minister to account — to demand integrity and honour from our elected officials.
His email is: email@example.com. Let your voice make a difference.
Vesna Higham is a local lawyer, former Red Deer city councillor and a freelance columnist.