This has, predictably, created quite an uproar. It is a pretty basic principle that egregious spending on personal luxuries on the tax payer dime is unfair and unacceptable - particularly from a government focused on the rhetoric of shared sacrifice. Ultimately, this kind of graft is relatively minor and pales in comparison to the kinds of soft corruption where large government policy in the millions or billions is affected due to the personal interests of politicians (take, say, the 50 million in G8 spending in Tony Clement's Muskoka riding). I won't try and summarize the innumerable ways that corruption by special interests into our political system occurs in this post, but I will note that people seem quicker to realize how blatantly unacceptable the more minor graft of Bev Oda is while more consequential forms of corruption are much more difficult to identify.
What this episode really calls into question for me is whether Bev Oda could possibly be qualified to be the Canadian Minister of International Development. This is the department that oversees the bulk of Canadian foreign aid to the most impoverished countries in the world. To me, such a minister would require, at minimum, a basic sense of empathy, respect, and humility for our place in the world and our obligation to others who are less fortunate than us. Being willing to repeatedly and egregiously decorate oneself in luxuries on the tax payer's dime seems entirely antithetical to these core values. Can she be a passionate crusader for Canada's role in assisting the developing world while at the same time enjoy $16 dollar/bottle orange juice and a personal limo driver? Perhaps, but it seems very unlikely.
There is also a serious question about her decision making skills. Many people might like to do exactly what she did if given the chance, but would recognize that as a prominent member of the leadership of a country, there is too big a risk to themselves professional and to the party in general if they are caught. Especially those who have been caught on the same charge repeatedly. That she cannot control her urge to go from a five star hotel to an even better five star hotel in the face of potential public scrutiny demonstrates a lack of basic decision making skills.
It isn't as if Bev Oda is known for having a clean and courageous political life and merely has this sweet tooth for the finer things in life on the side. In 2011, she directed an aide to alter a signed CIDA memo that resulted in in a flippant and partisan pulling of the funding for the aid agency KAIROS which does work, among many other places, in Palestine. KAIROS has attracted considerable (although, from my eyes, unjustified) criticism from the Conservative Party establishment with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (a lovely fellow) accusing it of anti-semitism despite confusing major details. Oda`s attempts to cover up her actions may well have resulted in being held in contempt of Parliament were an election not called.
All of this begs the question: why did the Conservatives put such a person in this kind of post? The answer is the worst kept secret in all of politics. She gets the appointment because she is a partisan that bats for the team, and nobody cares how good a fit she might be at the job. She can be reliably counted on to tout the party line on issues like Israel/Palestine and the only reason anyone is ever going to care if she books herself into overly expensive hotels is if it somehow manage to gets published. Which, I suspect, is only a small percentage of the time and she probably gets off with this all the time. Given, say, Defense Minister Peter McKay's willingness to use military jets for his personal travel, it isn't exactly as if this is a disqualifying trait to be a Minister.
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