Canada's International Development minister Bev Oda

Step down, Bev Oda

  • April 24, 2012

International Development minister Bev Oda has defended large cuts in Canadian foreign aid by saying stricter accountability has created more efficiency in how taxpayer dollars are spent overseas. Sadly, the minister doesn’t seem to apply that same discipline to her own office.

Oda is the minister responsible for managing Canada’s $5 billion aid budget. It’s her job to sign off on which starving nations receive Canadian aid as well as how much money each receives. More than most Canadians, she is familiar with the misery of the world’s poor, or at least she should be. So it’s alarming to learn the Conservative minister approaches her important work with a let-them-eat-cake mentality.

Through an access to information request, the Canadian Press discovered that Oda left a five-star hotel in London, England last year to take a room at the nearby Savoy Hotel. The switch increased her nightly room rate from $287 to $665. She also paid a cancellation penalty of $287 at the first hotel. So her total bill for three nights lodgings jumped from $861 to $2,282.

Oda was in London to attend a conference at the first hotel. To shuttle between hotels, a cab ride of under 10 minutes, Oda booked a luxury car and driver at a daily cost of about $950. So what should have been a single hotel expense of $861 at a five-star hotel wound up costing taxpayers more than $5,100 for the ritzier room and transportation. 

Oda didn’t buy her comfort with money earmarked to feed the poor. Her office budget is separate from the aid budget. Still, the optics are terrible and the ethics shameful.

At the time, Canada had imposed a freeze on its $5 billion aid budget. Since then, the Conservatives announced a 7.5% reduction in foreign aid spread over three years. That cut amounts to $377 million being withheld from some of the most desperate people on the planet.

As Canada wrestles its annual budget deficit, it has become less charitable. A long list of overseas aid agencies have already felt the sting of
government cuts. These funding cuts will increase suffering in many parts of the world, although not apparently in Ottawa.

Recently, Oda said it was wrong to judge Canada’s impact in the developing world solely by the size of its aid budget. It’s also important to gauge the strategic effectiveness of aid, she argued, adding: “We also have to balance that (spending) with good use of public funds.”

Oh, the irony. For how she has spent public funds, Oda should have to repay the treasury in full or, better yet, donate the money to a foreign
development charity.

Then, having proven she is ill suited to be Canada’s voice for the poor, she should step down.

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