Newspaper article The Canadian Press

One Gaffe Too Many: Prime Minister's Patience Peters out for Oda's Opulent Tastes

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

One Gaffe Too Many: Prime Minister's Patience Peters out for Oda's Opulent Tastes

Article excerpt

Patience petered out for Oda's opulent tastes


OTTAWA - Bev Oda's background made her look great as a candidate on paper: an accomplished former broadcast executive, industry regulator and a popular MP who won her riding by impressive margins.

But within only a few scant months of appointing her to cabinet, Prime Minister Stephen Harper got an inkling of the weaknesses that would trip her up for years.

Oda, who announced she was stepping down on Tuesday, turned into a serial stumbler when it came to the use of the public purse and issues of perception -- long before the famous stay at the Savoy Hotel.

Her awkward communications skills merely compounded the problem. Oda, 67, was never entirely comfortable in the Commons or in front of the cameras.

Oda had worked at TVOntario, Citytv and CTV in behind-the-scenes executive positions before moving on to become a commissioner at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

She entered politics by wresting the suburban Toronto riding of Durham from the Liberals in 2004 and was rewarded with increased pluralities in subsequent elections. She found herself appointed to Harper's first cabinet in 2006 and quickly landed in her first controversy: the newly appointed Heritage minister allowed a broadcasting executive to organize and advertise a fundraiser, even though she now oversaw policies that affected the industry.

Only after the media and the NDP raised the apparent conflict of interest did Oda pull out of the event and the cheques were returned to donors. The gaffe happened at the same time as the Conservatives were pushing through the Federal Accountability Act.

It took a mere four months for Oda to find herself back in the hotseat -- this time for racking up $5,500 in limousine fees while attending the Juno Awards in Halifax. She reimbursed roughly half the fees that she said weren't related to her ministerial duties.

At the same time, Oda was also facing criticism in the Commons for changes at Status of Women Canada -- another agency she oversaw. Regional offices were shut down, the word "equality" was suddenly stricken from key documents, and advocacy and research projects made ineligible for funding.

Problems followed Oda to the next portfolio at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), an agency that was losing funding and rankling aid groups because of changes to its funding priorities.

Oda ignited a firestorm over funding to the organization Kairos when she ruled the group did not meet the standards required to receive government money in 2009. But a document from within the department showed that officials had actually approved it. The word "not" had mysteriously been written on the approval document. Oda initially told a Commons committee she didn't know how it got there. …

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