Harper gov't answers to accusations against Oda
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Friday, February 18, 2011 9:23PM EST
The Conservative government addressed allegations Friday that a cabinet minister altered a document and then misled Parliament about a decision not to fund a foreign aid agency.
The furor about International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda continued in Ottawa on Friday, as opposition MPs continued to call for Oda to step down.
The controversy centres on Oda's decision to overrule a bureaucrat's report and end funding for the agency Kairos. Opposition MPs say Oda then misled MPs about that decision.
On Friday, parliamentary secretary Tom Lukiwski issued a formal response, which spelled out that ministerial paperwork is often messy.
"No one ever suggested that a bureaucratic and ministerial paper flow had to be a work of art," said Lukiwski, who is the parliamentary secretary to the Conservative House leader.
Lukiwski's comments in the House represented the government's formal comment to Speaker Peter Milliken, who is mulling a potential Parliamentary breach by Oda.
Oda reportedly doctored a document by writing "not" on a sentence, changing the meaning and ending $7 million in funding for Kairos.
Lukiwski also hit back at opposition MPs about charges that Oda was intentionally misleading Parliament. Lukiwski said that opposition MPs simply didn't ask the right questions.
"Precise answers to questions do not constitute contempt," said Lukiwski, who blamed Liberal MP John McKay for not questioning Oda with enough diligence.
"The minister's response referenced an activity within CIDA, which was the subject of the inquiry," he added.
"She was not asked about the decision process, insofar as the minister and officials were concerned."
However, transcripts of the foreign affairs committee on Dec. 9 suggest that McKay was cut off by Tory chairman Dean Allison.
Opposition MPs have petitioned the house speaker to make a ruling that Oda's actions correspond to a breach of parliamentary privilege. If Milliken agrees, it could be a first step toward finding Oda in contempt of Parliament.
Meanwhile, an online petition calling for Oda to step down has been gaining momentum. There are now about 20,000 names on the list. On Thursday afternoon, only 7,000 people had signed on.
Meanwhile, NDP MP Libby Davies said that the government's response to the scandal has been "very tawdry."
"They're hiding behind ludicrous technicalities," she told The Canadian Press on Friday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stressed that it was Oda's ministerial prerogative to overrule the recommendations of her officials.