Bev Oda, the International Cooperation Minister, committed a serious transgression when she willfully misled a House committee in December and, prior to that, appeared to oversee the falsifying of a document from a government agency. She should apologize unequivocally to the Foreign Affairs committee and explain the decision-making process involved.
"Not" is surprisingly muscular for three little letters, none of them worth more than a single point in Scrabble. It can flip an entire sentence, or a multi-million dollar funding decision, on its head. The President of the Canadian International Development Agency (a public official of the rank of deputy minister) and Ms. Oda, the CIDA minister, signed off on a recommendation that Kairos, a church-backed aid group, receive a grant of $7-million over four years. Shabbily, someone inserted the word "not," making it look as if CIDA opposed the grant. And Ms. Oda insisted before the committee that she knew nothing about who had done so.
She was quite aggressive, in fact. "It's like we're on CSI or it's an investigative forensic thing, asking who put the 'not' in. I'd like to know what your issue is. What is your issue?" she said at the committee in answering questions from Liberal MP John McKay.
She now says - in Parliament - that it was she who ordered the "not" be put in. That comment cannot be squared with her testimony at the committee. There is an onus on those who appear before committees to tell the whole truth. Stephen Harper campaigned on making the committees more effective in their work. The committees are an important vehicle for holding government to account.
House Speaker Peter Milliken described Ms. Oda's troubling behaviour well when he said, "Any reasonable person confronted with what appears to have transpired would necessarily be extremely concerned, if not shocked, and might well begin to doubt the integrity of certain decision-making processes."
Ms. Oda needs to sit down again with the Foreign Affairs committee and shed some light on that "not," and on her explanations. It's not just in Canada's interest. The developing countries that she so often criticizes for a lack of transparency will be watching.