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Apologetic Bev Oda concedes she sowed confusion over aid decision

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda appears before a Commons committee weighing contempt charges against her on March 18, 2011.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Facing a possible finding of contempt of Parliament, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda says she realizes in retrospect the answers she gave a Commons committee about her rejection of funding for a church-based international aid group could have been more clear.

"I take fully responsibility for the confusion created and I apologize for that," Ms. Oda told the procedure and House affairs committee Friday. "Initially I didn't understand how my answers were creating confusion."

Ms. Oda has taken responsibility for ordering the word "not" inserted into a document from the Canadian International Development Agency, thereby reversing a recommendation by department officials that the minister offer $7-million in funding to Kairos. But, during a committee appearance in December, she said she did not know who put the word on the document.

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Ms. Oda said Friday she personally rejected the Kairos application because it did not fit with CIDA's objectives. While the application for funding contained some positive elements, there were also some aspects that were of concern.

"For example, over $880,000 was to be used for advocacy, training, media strategies and campaign activities here in Canada," Ms. Oda told the committee. "I believe this is not the best way to spend public funds intended to help those living in poverty in developing countries."

After careful consideration, she said, she decided to reject the funding.

"At no time did I speak to [Immigration Minister Jason]Kenney, the Prime Minister or any staff from their offices, nor did I receive any advice or direction from them," Ms. Oda said. "The decision was mine and mine alone."

The minister explained she spent some months deliberating the recommendation of the grant's approval, which had come from her department, and then called her former chief of staff, Stephanie Machel, to say she had decided to reject the application.

In what Ms. Oda described as normal practice, Ms. Machel inserted the word "not" into the recommendation and someone else in the office used an autopen to replicate the minister's signature.

There was no other way to reject an application that had been approved by the department, she said. But the document was then returned to the CIDA officials who signed off on the grant to let them know she had overruled their decision.

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The decision memos are intended for internal use only, Ms. Oda said, and CIDA officials did not express any concerns about her handling of the matter.

"I know that I should have provided a fuller explanation of this process," the minister told MPs

When she told the Commons foreign affairs committee that she did not know who had inserted the word "not," Ms. Oda said it was because she did not know who was physically responsible for doing so at the time. "In hindsight, I wish I had been clearer in my answer."

There was no intention to mislead the committee members, she said. "I now realize from someone else's perspective it was confusing as the Speaker has said. People listening to my answers might have though I signed the document and then, after that, someone added the word 'not'."

In conclusion, she said, her original answers were "truthful, accurate and precise but were not clear."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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