1. Ministerial conduct. When it comes to handling scandals and controversy, Stephen Harper’s Tories seem to employ a double standard. It was on display Monday during Question Period when Immigration Minister Jason Kenney stood to vigorously defend himself against accusations of improper behavior.
Contrast his performance with that of his colleague, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, who has been rendered practically mute over allegations she misled her fellow MPs over a doctored CIDA memo.
It gets better. Not only was Mr. Kenney able to defend himself in the Commons, he carried that defence to the foyer, scrumming with reporters then doing a round of interviews on the political talk-shows – again, explaining how he was not using his office for partisan purposes when an aide sent out a Conservative fundraising appeal on parliamentary letterhead. He also apologized for the mistake and said he takes personal responsibility, although it cost the aide his job.
Ms. Oda, meanwhile, sits quietly behind the Prime Minister and her biggest defender, Government House Leader John Baird, who has done most of the speaking for her. Early on, it even appeared she was being shielded from view in the Commons by her seatmate, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose. Ms. Oda doesn’t scrum nor has she appeared on the political talk shows.
Here’s how her issue is being handled. “The CIDA minister's refusal to answer basic questions about her contempt for this place goes beyond just the cuts to Kairos,” Liberal MP Anthony Rota said on Friday. “It strikes at the heart of what the Prime Minister once claimed to promote. In an edict to ministers, he said that they must ‘answer honestly and accurately about their areas of responsibility.’
“So, who told the minister to cut Kairos funding and why has she continued to mislead this House over these past months?”
Replied Mr. Baird: “On Dec. 9, the minister appeared before a committee, and I believe she answered about 11 times the question of why she made the decision not to renew funding for Kairos. It was on Dec. 9, before the foreign affairs and international development committee.”
Now here is the exchange Monday between Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe and Mr. Kenney:
“The Minister of Immigration said his staff's use of parliamentary letterhead for partisan fundraising was a minor administrative mistake. Yet it was the minister who told a member of his office staff, who is paid by taxpayers, to conduct this targeted fundraising,” Mr. Duceppe said. “Will the Minister of Immigration admit that he was behind this partisan fundraising carried out with government resources and that he must take responsibility and resign?”
Replied Mr. Kenney: “It is obviously completely inappropriate to use government resources to raise funds for any political party. That is why I accepted responsibility as soon as I learned of this administrative mistake by my office. My political assistant offered his resignation and I accepted. I subsequently contacted the ethics commissioner and you, Mr. Speaker. I apologize for this mistake, and we have taken corrective action.”
So what is this all about? Why is he allowed to speak and she is not?
Is it a trust issue? Does the “centre” consider Mr. Kenney a better, more articulate minister? Is his scandal less egregious and easier to explain in the eyes of the PMO strategists? Or is it simply sexism? The woman – never mind that she is a seasoned and experienced cabinet minister – simply can’t defend herself so let’s bring out the big guns to help her out?
There was no explanation from the Prime Minister’s Office. Dimitri Soudas, Mr. Harper’s director of communications, would only say that Ms. Oda has spoken in the Commons. “She did defend herself,” he told The Globe. “At some point the opposition wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Yes, she has apologized in the House but the past couple of times she has spoken since then have been about the situation in Haiti. Mr. Soudas suggested she had spoken about the funding issue and was going to check the transcripts. Was he referring to this exchange in the House Thursday?
“Can the minister explain to us why the recommendation was erroneous and why she disregarded it?” Liberal MP Raymonde Folco asked. “Will she explain exactly how her department erred, or will she continue to demonstrate her contempt for this Parliament?”
Replied Ms. Oda: “Mr. Speaker, our government wants Canada's aid and development efforts to have an impact and make a difference. With Canada's support and our government's policies, more children will get at least one meal a day; more children will be in school, with trained, qualified teachers; more mothers will be healthier and able to survive giving birth to healthy babies; and more young people will have the needed skills to get a job and earn an income.”
Not exactly the answer Ms. Folco was looking for.
2. What’s in a name? The Prime Minister’s Office is pushing back against report that it ordered public servants to use “ Harper government” rather than government of Canada in some communications documents. This, after it was pummeled in the Commons on Monday by Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals, who are now mocking the Tory re-branding exercise by referring to the government as the “ Harper regime" or “Conservative regime.”
In a memo from the PMO to supporters and MPs, however, officials deny that a directive was sent to departments to change the name. And the Tories add:
“The Liberals claim, incorrectly, that this is not something that was practiced by previous Liberal governments. The Liberals are deliberately trying to hide from readily available evidence proving that similar terms have been employed by successive governments for many years, both in Canada and other Commonwealth countries.”
In other words: It happens all the time, so what’s the big deal?