Kairos process not perfect: Tories

The Harper government has acknowledged that the controversy surrounding Bev Oda been less than pristine.

The Harper government issued its first, grudging acknowledgment Friday that a controversial funding decision and subsequent cover-up by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda may have been less than pristine.

"No one ever suggested that a bureaucratic and ministerial paper flow had to be a work of art," Tom Lukiwski, parliamentary secretary to the Conservative House leader, told the Commons.

Lukiwski provided the government's formal argument to Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, who is assessing a potential breach of parliamentary privilege by Oda.

Opposition parties, newspaper editorial boards across the country and even some conservative commentators have called for Oda's resignation since she acknowledged last Monday that she ordered a signed, $7-million funding decision altered in order to reverse its meaning.

For the first time in over a year of inquiries, Oda also made clear that she overruled her officials at the Canadian International Development Agency when she denied funds to the foreign aid group Kairos.

Oda and other government members previously stated repeatedly that the decision was simply a routine rejection on the advice of the bureaucracy.

Lukiwski argued that those earlier responses were technically correct, based on the questions asked.

"The minister's response referenced an activity within CIDA, which was the subject of the inquiry," he told Milliken. "She was not asked about the decision process, insofar as the minister and officials were concerned."

'Precise answers to questions do not constitute contempt.'— Tom Lukiwski, parliamentary secretary to the government House leader

Lukiwski also made the case that just because Oda testified in December that she didn't know who added the hand-written word "NOT" to the Kairos funding approval, that didn't contradict her later assertion that she ordered the revision.

"Precise answers to questions do not constitute contempt," said Lukiwski.

He blamed Liberal MP John McKay, who "should have asked different, or more, questions, or been more diligent in his inquiry."

Transcripts of Oda's Dec. 9 testimony at the foreign affairs committee show McKay being cut off by Conservative chairman Dean Allison as he pressed the minister on the specifics of her knowledge about the doctored document.

NDP MP Libby Davies called the government response "very tawdry."

"They're hiding behind ludicrous technicalities," she said in an interview.

Commons on break

With the Commons's week-long break beginning Monday, the daily jousting over Oda's fate will subside, even if opinions harden.   

Michael Taube, a columnist and former speech writer for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, joined the chorus Friday with his view that Oda should resign.

"A minister shouldn't blindly sign a document which gives taxpayer money to groups that hold less-than-salient views on a variety of issues -- and then order someone to add the word 'not' to the document at a later date when all hell breaks loose," Taube said in an email.

"Yes, I think Oda should step down. She's a nice, bright woman, and has been a good, capable minister and loyal foot soldier for the prime minister. That being said, she made a huge blunder with the Kairos funding letter."

Others are far less charitable.

Davies made a point of calling out Conservative House leader John Baird in the Commons for his repeated references to Oda's "courageous" decision on Kairos.

"Let's see: Courage is misleading a parliamentary committee and pretending bureaucrats recommended this decision?" Davies mocked.

She later said that the "courageous" Conservative government — "the government of transparency and accountability" — still hasn't offered any explanation why the multi-faith aid group's funding was cut.

To date, Harper has steadfastly maintained that Oda had the right to overrule her officials' recommendation, a point no one disputes.

"But there's been no courage to be clear with people where they stand," said Davies. "It's fair comment to demand why a decision was made."

Opposition parties say the Oda incident an example of the Conservative government's secrecy, deviousness and disdain for Parliament and the democratic process.

"If the prime minister gets away with this — which I think there's a reasonable chance that he might — well, Canadians make their choices," said McKay.

"We get the government we deserve."