The departure of Bev Oda from the federal cabinet should have happened months ago. Nevertheless, her resignation - effective July 31, apparently prompted by the knowledge or belief that she would be shuffled out later this summer - is a much-needed signal that Prime Miniter Stephen Harper holds his ministers accountable.
Over the past couple of years, that has too often been called into question. It is debatable whether various spending or ethics controversies should have cost the jobs of senior cabinet members such as Treasury Board President Tony Clement, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, or Industry Minister Christian Paradis. But taken as a whole, the government’s steadfast defence of even the most questionable behaviour has risked projecting a sense of entitlement.
Ms. Oda, the Minister responsible for Canada’s international development agency, at least publicly apologized this spring when it emerged that she had upgraded herself from a perfectly good hotel to a much more expensive luxury one while attending a conference in London, England. But that was only the most recent instance in which she had exhibited dubious judgment. In 2006, during the very first months of Mr. Harper’s government, she found herself in hot water for spending more than $5,000 on limousines while attending the Juno Awards. And last year, she was reprimanded by the Speaker of the House of Commons for misleading Parliament over the doctoring of a memo.
The latest brush with scandal was not just a misstep; it was a sign that Ms. Oda was either incapable of learning from her mistakes, or did not believe she needed to do so. The latter was a particularly troubling prospect, and required action on Mr. Harper’s part. While loyalty is an admirable trait, and ministers should not be tossed overboard at the first hint of trouble, neither should they be given the impression that they’re untouchable.
Mr. Harper is certainly not the first Prime Minister to stand by some of his ministers too long. But it bears recalling that his Conservatives were first elected, in large part, because they promised greater accountability and transparency than the Liberals had offered. Ms. Oda’s exit, however overdue, is a small but encouraging indication that Mr. Harper remembers that.