(Quebec) Former Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge has been aware of the consequences of a devastating report by the Quebec Ombudsman about favoritism in his ministry in the distribution of grants to organizations within a year.
He was informed about it in the fall of 2021, his cabinet confirmed on Friday, a day after the report’s findings were published.
On Thursday, the new Minister of Education, Bernard Drainville, noted that a series of nine recommendations of the Quebec Ombudsman had been implemented, but only a few months later, in April 2022. He added that there would be other changes to the administration of the grants, without saying which ones.
On Friday, the Quebec Ombudsman said the investigation into the Ministry of Education began in February 2018, so it was under the Liberal administration, and continued until November 2021 under the CAQ administration. The investigation was conducted based on the request of an informant whose name does not appear anywhere.
The Ministry of Education was headed by the Liberal Sébastien Proulx in 2016-2018 and by the Caquiste Jean-François Roberge in 2018-2022.
At the end of this lengthy investigation, the Quebec Ombudsman on Thursday uncovered and denounced a scheme at the Ministry of Education to provide financial aid to some of the ministry’s partner organizations at the expense of other organizations. He essentially criticizes the Ministry of Education for turning an administrative program into a tool used to distribute political favors.
This is “a case of serious mismanagement” of a program with an annual budget of 60 million, according to the Quebec Ombudsman.
Apart from distancing himself from his liberal predecessor in this matter, Minister Robert, who has since gained responsibility for the French language in particular, claims that he behaved “like his predecessor” and “followed the existing protocol by giving subsidies”. to organizations that support students.
He even echoes a statement Mr. Proulx made on Thursday, saying “if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second, I would do it again.”
In an exchange of text messages with his cabinet, he also confirms that the Defender specifically recommended that this program be “marked more according to standards.” He says he asked his officials to “set standards and put them in place.”
But he does not say what standards he is referring to or when they will be applied, or what the consequences will be for the relationship between the cabinet and civil servants, or even between the cabinet and partner organizations. It also does not mention the extent to which the new standards exclude any form of favoritism.
Minister Robert declined an interview request on Friday.
The Guardian’s document is wary of details, making it difficult to paint a complete picture of the situation and say who did what and when. Marc-André Dowd declined interview requests.
The results of the investigation show that the minister’s office prioritized the payment of subsidies to some non-profit organizations, such as the Breakfast Club of Canada, Allo Prof, Cantine pour tous, without any basis and often ignoring the recommendations of officials. and First Nations Adult Education Trust. A complete list is not available.
Unfair practices and numerous violations of the law have been observed in the distribution of amounts paid to these organizations, and this is repeatedly reported by “Protector”.
“In several situations, organizations have actually benefited from the preferential treatment,” he writes, noting that “political authorities have resorted to the roles of the administrative apparatus to influence decisions about the granting of financial assistance.”
The “close relationship” between the political staff and the leaders of the organizations in question meant that decisions were made at the political level, while the study of documents usually had to go through the administrative level.
The scheme has gone so far that “recommendations to the Minister not to subsidize” have become “positive recommendations”.
Organizations have received government funding without ever even applying or submitting a project.
Former Liberal minister Sébastien Proulx, who says he has no regrets, criticized Protector for never contacting him to hear his version of the facts.
The opposition parties were unhappy and pointed out many gray areas in the case.
On Friday, Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon felt several questions remained unanswered. He asked the Defender to “clarify the facts”.
“The client needs to specify the facts and behaviors that they find troubling,” he said in a phone interview. After all the facts are known, we can “assess whether this is embezzlement or normal use of public funds.”
A day ago, the interim leader of the official opposition, Mark Tanguay, also demanded that all lights be turned on this file.
Prime Minister Francois Legault, who answered a question about this while on a business trip to Tunisia, rejected the criticism and said that it was “not a patronage system”.
He said that the government is often criticized for leaving too much room for bureaucracy, and called on the ministers to be free in this area.
“We have to leave room for judgment” and be transparent, he said.