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International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda smokes a cigarette behind Parliament's Centre Block on Feb. 16, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda smokes a cigarette behind Parliament's Centre Block on Feb. 16, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Pollster Panel

Would firing Bev Oda <br/>win any votes for Harper? Add to ...

Despite days of sustained attacks by opposition MPs, Stephen Harper is standing by beleaguered International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda. They want her head but he's having none of it.

But is this strategy the correct one? Should the Prime Minister fire Ms. Oda over allegations she altered a document to deny funding to the faith-based aid group Kairos? Are the opposition attacks hurting him? Would her resignation move any votes? And does anyone outside of the Ottawa bubble care?

We asked our pollster panel to weigh in.

NIK NANOS is on Mr. Harper's side. "Fire the minister? I think 'not'," he says.

The president of Nanos Research doesn't see any upside for the Prime Minister in dismissing Ms. Oda. Rather, her firing would be viewed as an admission of two mistakes.

"First, that perhaps the minister appointed was not up for the job," he says. "Second, that a mistake was made in a ministerial decision."

Besides, Mr. Nanos argues, it's unlikely Mr. Harper believes "the decision itself was a mistake."

"Hence, any displeasure on his part is likely due to the process and not the outcome," Mr. Nanos says, adding that had she approved the application "that would more likely put her in the cross-hairs of the Prime Minister."

The pollster says these sorts of events merely reinforce existing attitudes Canadians have about the Prime Minister.

DARRELL BRICKER agrees. "If you already think that Stephen Harper is an unethical control freak, this just convinces you you're right. If you like Harper and the Tories, you're probably giving them a pass."

To the Ipsos Reid CEO, there is no scandal. Bev Oda is no Jim Flaherty, he says, underlining the fact she's not a high profile minister.

The issue is slightly confusing, he says, and also mundane. "For a scandal to really have teeth it needs it needs much more lurid content. Inserting an extra word in a government document lacks the punch of getting a bribe or kickback ... Think Adscam and you'll understand what type of scandal moves votes."

He suggests the opposition proceed with caution. "You're having fun right now and feel like you're really hurting the government. You're not."

Mr. Bricker says few people outside of the Ottawa "beltway" are paying attention. "Right now, Harper is just playing rope-a-dope," he says, suggesting the Liberals get back to economic issues. "You're distracted in the House, and the Tories are killing you with their ads."

DIMITRI PANTAZOPOULOS also doesn't believe there is much gain for the government in firing the minister.

"In the history of political resignations, I cannot recall a single instance where the opposition leaders stood up and congratulated a prime minister or former minister for taking an action that required great integrity and character," the Praxicus Public Strategies pollster says. "Instead, a resignation or firing inevitably adds fuel to the fire. Why did it take so long? Why are there not more firings? Why are we not having endless committee hearings and a traveling road show to further draw attention to the issue?"

He adds the "heat that a politician takes for not resigning has a far shorter shelf-life than the aftermath of a resignation."

And like Mr. Bricker, he doesn't believe that anyone really cares. "An obscure group, involved in an obscure funding issue does not make for easy political positioning," he argues. "So, if there is no political advantage to the change, then why make it?"

FRANK GRAVES, however, has an entirely different view from his colleagues.

The president of EKOS Research doesn't think the minister can hang on as the media and opposition have developed a pack mentality and "sense blood in the water."

"There doesn't appear to be a lot of latitude left for Minister Oda - there is a pretty strong consensus she should resign," Mr. Graves says, noting that after a cooling off period she could come back into cabinet.

Although he believes few Canadians care about the Kairos funding issue, he says it has "morphed into one of ethics and accountability." And this could prove difficult for the Conservatives.

"As this government knows very well, the proper application of concerns about ethics can have profound political rewards," he says. "It also has sizable risks when you are the incumbent. One of the reasons the current government has remained in pretty good stead with the public is that it has astutely avoided major ethics and accountability issues."

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