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International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda waits to testify before the Commons procedure and House affairs committee probing charges of contempt against her on March 18, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda waits to testify before the Commons procedure and House affairs committee probing charges of contempt against her on March 18, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Why the 'minister of weasel words' should not be found in contempt Add to ...

Pat Martin was Bev Oda's most aggressive questioner Friday, coming up with a number of unflattering descriptions for the beleaguered International Co-operation Minister. The boisterous New Democrat called her a "lousy minister," the "minister of weasel words" and suggested she was either a "very poor minister or equally poor liar."

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But now the Winnipeg MP doesn't think Ms. Oda should be found in contempt of Parliament.

"I think [her alleged transgressions]are sins of omission more than commission and I'm not sure being less than truthful is as serious as offence as an out-and-out lie," Mr. Martin told The Globe on Monday.

The NDP MP has taken a lot of heat for his behaviour Friday. He's been called a bully and even "sexist," which he says he profoundly resents. "I think it's sexist to treat a minister with kid gloves just because she's a woman," he said.

Although Mr. Martin was brought in to question the minister - he says he was "riding shotgun" - he is not part of the committee's deliberations. That falls to New Brunswick MP Yvon Godin, who is the NDP's full committee member and the party's view on the Oda affair.

The New Democrats are allowed two people at the table but only one vote on the committee report. Mr. Martin said that if he were in his colleague's shoes he would "find language to criticize and censure her without the finding of contempt."

The three opposition members on the committee have agreed the government is in contempt for its failure to release documents on the cost of its law-and-order agenda. But the Oda case is trickier and the committee has not yet decided whether the minister is in contempt for here mangled explanation of how an aid group's funding was revoked.

Mr. Martin said it's more difficult to find Ms. Oda in contempt because of the "Chrétien-esque nature of her answers, in the House at least."

The former Liberal prime minister from time to time stretched the truth, Mr. Martin said, as did his Progressive Conservative predecessor and former U.S. president Bill Clinton. "No one likes Mulroney-type answers or Clinton weasel words. But we can't use this extraordinary measure lightly. Only three others have been found in contempt. We were wrong about Louis Riel twice and Fred Rose was in prison already."

Mr. Riel, the Manitoba MP and Métis leader, was expelled from the Commons in 1874 for leading the Red River Rebellion. And Mr. Rose was a communist, elected to the Commons in a by-election in mid-1940s then expelled and imprisoned during the highly-charged atmosphere just after the Second World War.

"I'm not sure her offences are in the same category as Rose and we don't want to make a mistake, like Riel," Mr. Martin said. "Plus we don't need to find her in contempt in order to vote the government down. There are plenty of other opportunities that will mature and present themselves before the Oda report is drafted and tabled in the House."

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