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International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda has a cigarette break behind Parliament's Centre Block on Feb.16, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda has a cigarette break behind Parliament's Centre Block on Feb.16, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Opposition steps up pressure for Oda resignation over altered document Add to ...

Rhetoric sharpened and a committee raised the spectre of a minister in contempt of Parliament as the opposition parties continue to push for the resignation of Bev Oda, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper digs in his heels.

All three opposition leaders forcefully demanded Wednesday that Mr. Harper fire the International Co-operation Minister, who ordered an official document to be altered and then allegedly misled a parliamentary committee about the matter.

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That committee decided Wednesday to ask Speaker Peter Milliken to judge whether Ms. Oda was in contempt of Parliament. But an election could intervene.

For the Liberals, the Prime Minister's decision to retain Ms. Oda offends the democratic principle that ministers are accountable for their actions and those of their officials.

"It's about the integrity of the democratic system. Of course she has to go," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters Wednesday.

Ms. Oda first denied knowing who inserted the word "not" into a document that recommended funding the faith-based aid group Kairos.

Then she acknowledged this week that she had ordered the change cancelling the $7-million grant from the Canadian International Development Agency, and apologized if anyone had been misled into thinking that it was bureaucrats, not she, who was responsible.

"The Prime Minister condoned forging documents and condoned misleading the House," NDP Leader Jack Layton told the House of Commons. "How can Canadians trust a Prime Minister who would have such contempt for this place?"

But in the case of ministerial responsibility, precedent is a guide, not a judge.

"The minister made clear that the decision was contrary to recommendations which she received from unelected officials," Mr. Harper said in the Commons. "But in a democracy it is the elected officials who make decisions on how to spend taxpayers' money."

What could prove terminal would be censure from Mr. Milliken, who in a previous ruling strongly implied that Ms. Oda might have been in contempt of Parliament for misleading the foreign affairs committee.

That committee, which is dominated by opposition parties, finished its deliberations Wednesday and will formally ask Mr. Milliken to decide whether Ms. Oda had indeed offended the privileges of Parliament.

But the process to reach a conclusion - which could include a preliminary ruling, a referral to a parliamentary committee and then a final decision - could take many weeks, and a federal election may be under way by then.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday that Ms. Oda has apologized and that should be the end of it. When pressed by The Canadian Press on whether that was enough after misleading the House of Commons, Mr. Kenney shot back: "The CBC lies all the time. What media are you with?"

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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