Opposition wants Oda emails

Opposition MPs say they're going to try to force the prime minister to produce evidence about an altered document.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said Thursday his party will seek email and other evidence about the decision to alter a document that denied funding to aid agency Kairos. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Opposition MPs say they're going to try to force the prime minister to produce evidence about an altered document at a House of Commons committee.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae says the opposition will table motions next week at committee to force the offices of Stephen Harper and International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda to table documents about the infamous "not" inserted on a memo that otherwise would have okayed $7 million in funding for aid organization Kairos.

Rae says the opposition won't drop the issue and vowed to track down whoever inserted the three-letter word, changing the meaning of the typed document.

"Is there an email that says 'do this'?" he asked.

"Who are all the people who received the email? Governments operate with records and with paper. There is a paper trail, there's an email trail. This thing is not going to go away."

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda in the Commons last week. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))
Oda says it was someone on her staff who inserted the "not" at her instruction. She says the memo reflects her decision.

"We intend to pursue this and I can just say to the government that it's going to be in the dentist chair for weeks to come," Rae said.

"We are not going to allow a minister to mislead the House of Commons and not tell the truth to Canadians about an issue of significance in her department, and simply get away with it."

"If they're refusing to come forward with the information, then the only alternative is root canal. And that's what it's going to be," he said.

Parliamentary privilege

The opposition lodged a formal complaint with House Speaker Peter Milliken last Thursday, arguing Oda breached parliamentary privilege by misleading the House over who recommended denying funds to Kairos.

Inside Politics blog

What is the Autopen?

The Conservatives officially responded Friday, arguing the facts don’t support the allegation that Oda broke the rules.

MP Tom Lukiwski said the document with the "not" inserted was meant only to communicate the minister’s decision. He said it wasn’t intended to be made public.

The next day, the party reportedly distributed a memo that said Oda was out of town when the decision was due. The memo said her staff inserted the "not" at her instruction and used a machine called an Autopen — that mimics her signature — to sign the document.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar says Canadians don't like being lied to. He says the story resonates with voters.

"They care about people not doing their job. They care about when people say they're going to be different and they're not," Dewar said.

"It's about hypocrisy ... (Canadians) don't like when people don't tell the truth and when people try and play them."

Conservatives respond

The opposition has tabled a foreign affairs committee report in the House of Commons that opens the door to possible sanctions against Oda over her responses to the committee last year. Milliken isn't expected to rule on the matter until next week at the earliest.

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.