What's the big deal with Oda?
This is the week where we find out whether the controversy over Bev Oda is a big deal or not a big deal. If it lingers in the headlines over the parliamentary break, conventional wisdom has it, then this minister will be gone. I'm actually away from the capital (even the country) as I write this, but I've been giving some thought to what's a big deal in federal politics these days.
Some people like history that's filled with big stuff -- epic battles, struggles against the enemies, and so on. Others realize that this is the history written by the victors, as the old saying goes -- all the greys edited out, whether that's the ordinary life of the people who stayed home while the soldiers fought or the sketchy stuff that makes it difficult to tell who was really on the side of good and who was on the side of evil.
For people who see the world as a black-and-white struggle, there's going to be a temptation to say that this Oda business is either irrelevant (her supporters), or utterly contemptible (her detractors.) I think it's a big deal, but not because it's one single "test of democracy," as Liberals argue.
I think, when we look back over the history of this period, that the Oda case will be seen as a cultural marker -- a revealing moment for its sheer banality. The scribbled "not" is a classic case of history being written by the winners, or in this case, the political masters in Ottawa at the moment. No big one, Oda's supporters say. Happens all the time. Nothing to see here. And indeed it did happen to Canada's chief statistician, to the private investigator in the Helena Guergis controversy and the diplomats who wanted to tell the truth about Afghanistan. The people with power write the official record. And if facts or truth are distorted on the way to the greater good, well, that's the way it goes and the way it's always been.
To my mind, Bev Oda is neither an epic figure of good or evil (despite, as one blogger wrote recently, her questionable decision to present herself in public in sunglasses, all in black, smoking, as a Russian mobster might.)That "not" however, is a big deal, because it tells us something about what's seen as acceptable behaviour in a government that is convinced that it's always embroiled in a classic battle of good against (Liberal, left) evil.
You want to know why this government spends so much time controlling its "message" and its portrayal in public? Because it's trying to enforce power over who writes its history -- criticism is tantamount to taking the enemies' side. We reporters in Ottawa are used to this by now.
The Bev Oda controversy is not staying in the headlines because we journalists are trying to bring down the government (much as many Conservatives love to believe). Most of us actually aren't in that good-versus-evil frame of mind. It's being reported because it was an open, ham-handed effort to distort the record. And it's part of a pattern. (See cases above -- there are more.) So is it a big deal? Yes. Precisely because it's so ordinary, and it's being portrayed that way by Oda's supporters.