Oda's spending spree just another unethical episode we'll soon forget
"Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed."
- Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki
A poll commissioned in February by the Manning Group, a right-wing Calgary-based think-tank, found that 90 per cent of respondents felt politicians are more concerned with money than people.
What a curious result. Why the cynicism, people? Could it be the double-dipping? The plum patronage appointments for pals? The constituency allowance spending scandals? The posh rides on the taxpayers' dime? (Quick - someone hail me a helicopter.) The double billings? The spending sprees in ministers' ridings?
In certain political spheres, it's getting to the point where elected members who display an ethical streak are the exception, not the rule.
And we are all too apathetic about it, with more than one-third of us not even bothering to vote in the last federal election.
Revelations about Bev Oda's spendthrift tour of London in June 2011 grabbed headlines this week, with the news that she rejected her five-star conference hotel in favour of the super-swanky Savoy, and then hired a limo to drive her wherever she wanted to go.
This, at a time when the federal government is talking about belt-tightening, and public sector workers across the country are either getting pink slips or dreading getting them.
As Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus said to his Conservative colleagues in the House of Commons on Monday, "Is someone over there not embarrassed by her behaviour? Will someone stand up and apologize to the hard-working Canadian taxpayers? She is living like a queen off their backs."
Queen Bev has apparently shucked off her previous persona - the one she wore back when she was known for rejecting grant requests from international development agencies that helped the poor.
That was in February 2011, when Globe and Mail reporters Campbell Clark and Daniel LeBlanc were describing her as "a small-c conservative, with a parsimonious touch, who, according to one official, buys clothes at discount store Winners, and viewed every expenditure 'with suspicion' - and was hesitant to approve grants for recipients that didn't espouse conservative values."
That parsimonious touch has apparently given way to her sense of entitlement - the notion that while five-star hotels are fine for lesser folk, Conservative cabinet ministers can command accommodations fit for royalty.
Funny how someone with "conservative values" can spend someone else's money so liberally.
I couldn't help but notice in Tuesday's Telegram that two pages past the story on Oda's glitzy London trip, was a story from Corner Brook about federal employees bracing for the possible end of their careers.
One of them, whose unit at the employment insurance processing centre is being shut down, said she might be given the option of moving to St. John's, but that means her husband would have to look for a new job and they likely wouldn't get enough for their west coast house to be able to afford one in the capital city.
"Who wants to start over at 47?" Kim Pike asked. "My options boil down to I'm better off staying here and making $10 an hour."
Those are the kinds of gut-wrenching life decisions ordinary mortals have to make, Ms. Oda - not whether to stay at a ritzy hotel versus an opulent one, or Moët & Chandon versus Dom Pérignon.
Here today, gone tomorrow
What saddens me the most about the latest Oda scandal is that it will blow over in no time at all.
It's already happened with Peter MacKay, Vic Toews, Stockwell Day, Tony Clement and the list goes on and on.
Yesterday it was fighter jets, today it's over-the-top orange juice, tomorrow it will be another Harper cabinet minister and another shocking scandal. How quickly we forget.
Oda's political pals leapt to her defence, with House Leader and Conservative MP Peter Van Loan noting that, "The minister, of course, has repaid the costs in question."
Of course she has - 10 months after the fact, and only then because the media was asking questions. That scrutiny also prompted her to apologize on Tuesday.
"The expenses are unacceptable," she said in the House of Commons.
Yes they are. But what's even more unacceptable is that any politician would think it was OK to waste Canadian taxpayers' money on themselves, especially when they're out there slashing programs and services and people's jobs in the name of austerity.
Let's be honest here: Bev Oda did not repay her outrageous expenses - as Van Loan suggested - because "our government believes very much that all ministers must respect taxpayer dollars."
She repaid the money because news of her splurging got out and she was being vilified for it.
But Oda, like so many of her greedy political compatriots, will wait for this transgression's dust to settle and then she'll go on about her business, lapping up luxury on our dime.
And unless we keep loudly condemning such behaviour - and by actually giving enough of a damn to make it to the ballot box when the next election rolls around - we might as well sit back and brace ourselves for more of the same.
Because for Harper and his cronies, clearly it's easier to tighten someone else's belt than it is their own.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram's associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton