iPolitics - July 23, 2012
One of the more mysteriously ambiguous things about government is the tolerance level for political gaffes and performance standards for cabinet ministers.
We see politicians make mistakes all the time. In most cases, they acknowledge them, apologize and move on. When it comes to ministers however, shouldn't the bar be set to the highest possible standard?
Ministers have the power, responsibility and authority to make many influential decisions - not to mention the perks that come with their posts and the additional $75,000 to their base salary of $157,000 as members of parliament.
Many factors can determine if a minister if promoted, demoted or completely removed from cabinet, but in recent shake-ups, it's clear that only political gaffes gaining traction in public opinion are the predominant reasons for demotions. Ideally, the process should be based on the credibility and competence of the minister rather than the dramatization of minor mistakes by the media.
When the overly limited cabinet shuffle took place earlier this month following Bev Oda's resignation from International Cooperation, we saw Julian Fantino taking over that portfolio and Bernard Valcourt of New Brunswick tasked with Associate Defence, in addition to his responsibilities as minister of state for Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
It's rather surprising that Oda was the only one to be shunned from cabinet despite other more substantive mishaps in the past year. Weeks before the shuffle, Oda told reporters she had no intention of stepping down or retiring, but it didn't take her long to see the writing on the wall and offer her resignation.
Oda was unfairly targeted for what can only be described as minor political mistakes, which were blown out of proportion and ultimately gained traction with voters.
Lavish spending of taxpayer dollars and staying in one of the most expensive hotels while sipping on $16 orange juice is indefensible when you are part of a government trying to balance the books. That was Oda's lethal mistake when she was on government business in London. It was also the straw that broke the camel's back and put an end to her political career.
The only other controversy Oda faced during her time in office was for rejecting funding for Kairos, a faith-based aid organization that promotes social and economic justice around the world.
Oda indicated at the time that Kairos didn't meet the government requirements for CIDA funding when in fact they had already been approved by departmental bureaucrats.
The controversy over the Kairos file wasn't the issue of funding itself, but rather the fall out from a disastrous and inconsistent story line by the minister.
Despite these political mistakes, Oda was generally a good minister who championed a number of files during her time in office.
She is a particularly good minister relative to Industry Minister Christian Paradis.
A quick look at the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's ongoing investigations shows how preoccupied Commissioner Mary Dawson has been with Paradis. Three separate examinations have now been initiated under the Conflict of Interest Act in relation to Paradis.
The first report related to allegations when he was minister of Public Works and Government Services. Dawson concluded that Paradis contravened the rules when he instructed staff to coordinate a meeting with former MP Rahim Jaffer and Green Power Corporation to discuss doing business with the government.
The two ongoing investigations relate to separate files. On February 29, Dawson confirmed that she is looking into Paradis' possible involvement in the relocation of an Employment Insurance claims processing centre to Thetford Mines, in response to a request from Mr. Guy Caron, Member of Parliament for Rimouski-Neigette--Temiscouata--Les Basques.
On April 23, Dawson also confirmed that her office was investigating Paradis' conduct in relation to his dealings with Marcel Aubut, a wealthy Quebec business man.
Paradis spent two nights in a lodge owned by Aubut who was lobbying the government for funding to build a new arena in Quebec City.
While one can understand the need for politicians to help their constituencies and friends, a minister should also be familiar with rules and regulations that govern their day-to-day operation. Being investigated on three separate occasions by the commissioner raises serious questions about Paradis' credibility and judgement.
His actions are far more disconcerting than those of Bev Oda even though they have failed to gain much public attention.
While most governments have argued that limited cabinet shuffles are necessary for stability and continuity of their agenda, those assumptions are only true when ministers live up to the expectations required of them.
At some point, ministerial appointments and shuffles must be weighed solely on merit rather than shifting public opinion.