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The amended CIDA document with the handwritten "not." (CP)
The amended CIDA document with the handwritten "not." (CP)

Conservatives split hairs <br/>in Bev Oda's defence Add to ...

The Conservative government is rising to the defence of the beleaguered International Co-Operation Minister, saying the opposition has offered no proof that she has misled the House of Commons.

Tom Lukiwski, the parliamentary secretary to House Leader John Baird, said Friday that Bev Oda told a committee of MPs she did not know who inserted the word "not" in a document that would have otherwise provided $7-million worth of funding to the aid group Kairos. And Ms. Oda has also told the Commons that the word was inserted on her instructions, he said.

But "these are not contradictory statements," Mr. Lukiwski told MPs in the House. "On all the evidence that is before the House, it must be concluded that both statements are true."

The MP who was questioning Ms. Oda at the committee did not pursue the line of inquiry, Mr. Lukiwski said. But "precise answers to questions do not constitute contempt." On the contrary, he said, there is no evidence that MPs have been obstructed.

"Some may say that the departmental document carrying the word 'not' is an issue. I disagree," he said. The document in question "was intended solely to communicate to officials the minister's decision, nothing more, nothing less. Not in the knowledge that it may one day be made public and with no intention whatsoever to deceive or mislead anyone about the officials' recommendation."

On Monday, Liberal MP John McKay and other opposition MPs voted 6-4 to send a report to Speaker Peter Milliken, asking him to consider whether Ms. Oda breached the rules of Parliament. But Mr. Lukiwski told Mr. Milliken on Friday that there is no evidence to support those charges.

Mr. McKay responded by reminding the House that Mr. Milliken said he had difficulties with the way in which Ms. Oda's decision in the Kairos funding was communicated and that a reasonable person might well conclude that MPs had been misled.

"The minister has had an opportunity to clarify the record and at this point we have something in the order of about three, four or five versions of what actually happened," Mr. MacKay said.

NDP MP Paul Dewar told the Commons that all Members of Parliament owe it to their colleagues to be truthful. "Cabinet ministers are held to a higher standard. And that is for obvious reasons. They have to absolutely assure all members that they are divulging all information," he said.

"The minister was evasive. She would not tell us who intervened to change this document. And she led us to believe that she wasn't involved," he said.

Mr. Milliken said he will consider all of the arguments as he deliberates his decision.

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