by David Akin
Two weeks ago, International Development Minister Bev Oda told her boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, that she wanted to retire, effective July 31, as the member of Parliament for the Ontario riding of Durham.
That’s the official story, anyhow, that both Oda and Harper were sticking to Tuesday when they publicly announced her decision to move on.
But the truth of the matter is: Oda’s multiple offender status for abusing the public purse meant her boss was likely to fire her anyhow this summer as part of a widely anticipated cabinet shuffle.
The fact that Oda is
67 years old makes her “ready-for-retirement” story plausible, but the fact she decided to “retire” just a year after the last general election makes it hardly seem believable.
And then there’s the manner in which she went.
When MPs decide to retire ahead of an election — as Calgary’s Lee Richardson did in the spring — most like to stand and make a few farewell comments.
And unlike Richardson, Oda had been more than just a backbencher for the life of the Harper government.
She was part of Harper’s first cabinet back in 2006.
As it stands, the last words Oda will have spoken in the House of Commons after her eight-year parliamentary career was a response in daily question period to a query about aid to Africa.
That was on June 20 — or two weeks ago, precisely when, according to Oda’s and Harper’s official story, she was telling her boss she was quitting.
Harper, it must be said, wasn’t wrong to put Oda in cabinet six years ago.
For one thing, Harper checked off a couple of cabinet diversity boxes because of Oda’s gender and her ethnicity.
She is the first Japanese-Canadian to be elected to the House of Commons.
Harper also believed Oda to have the policy smarts and private-sector executive experience to be a respectable minister.
But despite those factors working for her, Oda made some appalling errors in judgment, errors that finally made it politically impossible for her to stay.
First, as heritage minister — the portfolio she first had when Harper was elected — she attended the 2006 Juno Awards in Halifax.
But instead of getting around Halifax in a cab, she racked up thousands on the taxpayer’s tab for limo rides around town. She ended paying back $2,200.
Two years after that, the opposition dug up some receipts which suggested she hadn’t learned her Juno lesson and had proceeded to rack up another $17,000 in limo rides.
And then she went and did it again just last year while attending a conference in London.
Unhappy with the hotel reserved for her, she upgraded to the luxury Savoy — Oda, a smoker, had originally been booked in a cheaper non-smoking hotel — and then had a limo chauffeur her back and forth to the conference.
The kicker on that story when it surfaced: She billed the taxpayer for a $16 glass of orange juice delivered to her room. It mattered not that she paid back those extra expenses, Harper by then could no longer be seen to tolerate those kind of excesses.
And so Oda is out and now at least one backbencher can count on a promotion this summer.
That MP will have learned a lesson from the Oda affair: Whatever other attributes he or she will bring to the job, there is no substitute for respecting for the taxpayer’s money.
Categories: Contributor Columns