Speaker asked to investigate Oda
For the fourth day in a row, opposition MPs hammered at Bev Oda, accusing the government of a pattern of abuse.
For much of question period Thursday, MPs demanded an explanation for how the word "not" appeared scrawled on a signed document recommending the renewal of funding to international aid organization Kairos.
Oda, the minister of international cooperation, rose only once, to answer a question on funding for rebuilding Haiti. Government House Leader John Baird handled all the questions about the Kairos document. Oda slipped out of the House before the NDP and Liberals made formal complaints to Speaker Peter Milliken, arguing she had breached parliamentary privilege.
NDP Leader Jack Layton says the prime minister’s refusal to fire Oda from her cabinet position "means, in his mind, forging documents is all right."
"The fact that one of his ministers misled this house and arranged for a document to be forged is bad enough. But it's a pattern of abuse. It's a pattern that shows you can't trust this government," Layton said.
The Liberals tabled a foreign affairs committee report in the House of Commons Thursday morning that opened the door to possible sanctions against Oda.
The Speaker isn't expected to rule on the matter this week.
As the minister in charge of the Canadian International Development Agency, Oda 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 by adding a handwritten "not" to the document.
"When a minister misleads Parliament, he or she must resign. Why is she still here?" asked Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. "When will this government start showing some respect for democracy and fire this minister?"
Are you satisfied with Bev Oda's apology? Take our survey.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe also weighed in.
"She lied to us for weeks and months. She forged a document and now she wants to be a victim of that? … At [the]least she has no more credibility."
Baird, Harper defend Oda
With Prime Minister Stephen Harper absent from the House Thursday, it was left to Baird to defend Oda.
"She made a difficult and courageous decision. She did the right thing ... The minister made the right decision and the government supports that decision," said Baird.
Opposition MPs shouted "Shame, shame," when Baird told them Oda "had more integrity in her little finger" than some other MPs.
Earlier Thursday, in response to reporters' questions in Toronto, Harper said he "does not accept the premise that [Oda] lied."
"Minister Oda has been very clear that the decision was hers … We [the government] are not obliged to accept the decisions of bureaucrats," he said. "That is what Minister Oda has done and I support that."
Harper has steadfastly backed his embattled minister by saying she had every right to make the decision to cancel funding for the group.
A vote may follow
But the opposition members maintain that is not the issue. In filing the report with the Speaker, they said Oda had repeatedly misled Parliament.
Conservative MPs filed a supplementary report, saying they don't agree Oda is in breach of privilege or that she intended to mislead the committee.
"The minister does understand that she could have more clearly communicated the purpose and intent of why and how her office implemented her direction, and she has apologized to the House of Commons for how this issue has been handled. In that statement, she clearly said that it was never her intention to mislead either the House of Commons or the committee," the Conservative response read.
If Milliken were to decide Oda's actions constituted a breach, the matter would then go back to a committee to decide whether a vote should be held in the House on the breach question.
If Oda became the first sitting minister to be held in contempt of Parliament, that would put pressure on Harper to remove her from the cabinet.
"This issue will not go away so closely tied to the PM's agenda," said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae earlier Thursday. "I think the 'not' was put in on instructions from the PM's office. There is no doubt about that."
The Liberals launched a website Thursday to encourage people to sign a petition asking for Oda's removal. It had garnered more than 3,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon.
The opposition is also trying to shift the attention to Harper in this controversy, because it says he allowed Oda to deceive Parliament, said CBC News Ottawa reporter Hannah Thibedeau.
The opposition is saying Harper let Oda falsify a document and that he is not reprimanding her.
Moreover, opposition MPs want to hear from Oda herself. She has not commented since she told the House on Tuesday that the decision to cancel funding to the organization was hers and the handwritten "not" added to the document was inserted at her direction.