Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Oda and the Iceberg

Today the resignation of Bev Oda (CPC – Durham, ON) officially resigned from the Harper government and as a Member of Parliament. Anyone who knows who Bev Oda appears to be reacting rather positively to her departure from public life. After her deeply embarrassing $16 orange juice, luxury hotels, and limos the public patience was at a breaking point. Her Conservative colleagues have offered a weak defence of their erstwhile former-Minister, but in an interview with CBC’s Evan Solomon she declared she had no regrets, and therefore the government’s burden with Oda is not quite over.

I am glad Bev Oda has resigned. Her abilities as a minister were somewhat suspect and her stumbles and public failings over the last few months has only hardened the criticism over her competence. On an anecdotal level I have a number of friends who live in the riding of Durham. The talk there before Oda’s resignation was how embarrassing it was to have her as an MP. It is unlikely Durham would have flipped to one of the opposition parties without a landslide in 2015.

I write this blog because I love politics, but sometimes I absolutely hate politics. Bev Oda was pressured to resign, though no one admits it that much is pretty clear. One would hope that the reason was MPs were beginning to get negative feedback about this issue and pressured her and the Prime Minister’s Office. More likely (sadly) is that polling from the PMO showed Oda was a drag on the party. The convenience of summarizing Oda’s crimes with “$16 orange juice” made her a wonderful target for her detractors, regardless of affiliation.

Oda is not the most odious member of the Conservative Government. At the moment I believe that title goes to the Treasury Board Secretary Tony Clement (CPC – Parry Sound-Muskoka). Mr. Clement redirected a $50 million fund that was earmarked for reducing border congestion and funnelled it into pet projects in his riding and elsewhere. The most famous/notorious example is a gazebo.

Minister Oda charged thousands of dollars unnecessarily to the public purse. Once outted she repaid the cost, but the stink stuck. The audacity of the $16 orange juice stuck in enough people’s craw that she had to go. Yes, I used the word craw. SecretaryClement misdirected funds, was caught by the auditor general, called out forviolating accountability rules and has paid no political price for it.

Peter McKay’s helicopter joyrides, the mishandling of the F-35 procurement, and Dean Del Mastro’s election fundraising problems are all, in many ways, far greater violations of the public trust... but they do not make for as good of a sound bite as “$16 orange juice”. This is why I can be driven to hate politics at time. We often become fixated on the smaller, more dramatic scandals than the deeper problems and obstacles to good governance.

Yes, it is a good thing that Minister Oda resigned today, but she is only the tip of a much larger iceberg of what is wrong in the current federal government. She was one part of a much greater problem, but the symbolic sacrifice has been made, though greater problems lurk beneath.

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