Calls for Oda's dismissal grow in House
Minister was 'clear' on her decision to deny aid group funds, PM says
Opposition parties have ramped up their calls for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fire a member of his cabinet over her role in an altered document denying funding to a church-backed aid group.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told the House of Commons on Wednesday that Harper's refusal so far to remove International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda from her cabinet position shows a "disrespect for democracy."
NDP Leader Jack Layton said the prime minister was condoning forging documents and misleading the House by not firing her.
Oda and the Kairos affairLive blog of the foreign affairs committee debate
"We've got a prime minister who lets a minister deceive the House of Commons, falsify a document, and instead of reprimanding her or dismissing her, gets up in this House and actually applauds her," Ignatieff said.
"When will this prime minister start to show respect for the House, respect for the people who put us here and fire that minister?"
But Harper continued to defend Oda, insisting the embattled minister has always been "clear" in stating she was the person responsible for rejecting Kairos's funding application in late 2009.
"Speaker, the minister took a decision. She's been clear about that, clear in this House. It was clear before committee," the prime minister told the House as Oda remained in her seat.
"In terms of the use of taxpayers' money, we want to ensure foreign aid dollars are used for foreign aid. They are not entitlements to Canadian organizations. They are decisions made by an elected minister, and the minister has made the correct decision."
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Oda, the minister in charge of the Canadian International Development Agency, has been under fire since admitting earlier this week she was the person who directed a recommendation from agency staff be altered to reject a $7-million funding request from Kairos — with a handwritten "not" added to the document.
Since Oda's admission, opposition parties have cited several examples in which the minister suggested she was acting on CIDA's Kairos recommendation and that the aid group's funding request no longer fit the department's objectives.
Two months ago, Oda told a Commons committee she didn't know who ordered the word "not" added to the document.
A number of Oda's cabinet colleagues, including Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, also voiced their support for the embattled minister.
"The opposition are always attacking almost everything we do, and Minister Oda made a good decision in terms of funding for certain groups," Day told reporters on Wednesday.
"Our foreign aid is a very generous program in Canada. Taxpayers step up to the plate very generously, and I think they expect that fund would go to groups that are most effective. And that's what's happened."
Report passes committee
The House foreign affairs committee met behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon and agreed to send a report asking House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken to investigate further whether Oda has breached parliamentary privilege, according to opposition MPs on the committee.
NDP committee member Paul Dewar confirmed the report passed during in camera meeting and would be tabled in the House as early as Thursday morning for MPs to debate the matter.
If Milliken were to decide Oda's actions constituted a breach, it would trigger a lengthy parliamentary procedural process to determine whether Oda would become the first sitting minister to be held in contempt of Parliament.
Kairos is an aid agency that counts the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Quakers, the Mennonite Central Committee Canada and several Roman Catholic bodies among its members.
In December 2009, shortly after the decision to axe Kairos's funding was made, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney spoke in Jerusalem to the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. He said Kairos lost its funding for "taking a leadership role in the boycott … divestment and sanctions campaign" against Israel.
Kairos denied taking a leadership role in the boycott campaign a few days later, saying in a statement that its board of directors decided in 2007 "against advocating sanctions against Israel or a boycott of products from Israel."
Kairos also said it has a "fundamental position of support for the right of Israeli people to a safe and secure state, alongside a viable and secure Palestinian state."