It seems that not a week goes by without the Parti Québécois government having to defend itself against embarrassing revelations.
On Wednesday the Minister of International Affairs Jean-François Lisée was put on the defensive after it was reported that he was receiving two salaries. The QMI news agency revealed that Mr. Lisée was double-dipping by still receiving until February 2013 the remaining portion of his $104,000 year salary from his former job as head of a University of Montreal international research group. As of March he would have been eligible for a pension. The payment is in addition to $150,924 annual salary he now receives as minister since taking office last September. Mr. Lisée also receives a $15,895 non-taxable government allocation for annual expenses.
At first Mr. Lisée explained that the province's Ethics Commissioner had ruled last month that payment made by the University of Montreal while he was minister was part of a severance package that was neither illegal nor unethical.
But given the political storm caused by the news report at a time when the PQ government was seeking public support for several unpopular cost-cutting measures, Mr. Lisée backpedalled and announced he would donate the salary from his former job to charity groups in his Montreal riding of Rosemont.
"I will forego the money paid by the University of Montreal since September 1 and for the time I am in office I will donate my pension that will be paid to be as of next March to those who need it much, much more than I do: to those who have dropped-out of school and who are seeking to succeed in the job market." Mr. Lisée announced on his blog site.
The revelations had only compounded last week's embarrassment when Mr. Lisée and Premier Pauline Marois rescinded a deal involving the appointment of former Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair as the province's delegate general in New York Mr. Boisclair, 46, had been hired to the $170,000 a year job but was also granted lifetime job security as assistant deputy minister which would have given him an equivalent salary after completing his temporary assignment in New York. Public protest forced Mr. Boisclair to give-up the assistant deputy minister's title and the lucrative perks it would have eventually included.
While Mr. Lisée was busy defending himself against personally profiting from the generosity of the public purse, he was also called-in to defend his government against charges of wasting taxpayers' dollars.
Canadian Press reported late Tuesday that Mr. Lisée's ministry had paid a portion of the $64,000 expenses for a week-long meeting in Montreal of 22 cultural representatives working in the Quebec government's delegations around the world.
The Minister of Cultural Affairs Maka Kotto who had organized the meeting said that expenses were justified in order allow the cultural delegates to meet first hand with production companies seeking to export Quebec cultural product abroad.
"It was false to report that my Ministry paid $64,000 for the meeting. It cost about $39,000 and the money didn't come out of other programs," Mr. Kotto said. However he failed to mention that the amount paid by his department didn't include travel costs paid for by the Ministry of International Affairs.
"At a time when this government is asking all ministries to cut costs, the only good thing they can think of doing is to bring-in cultural delegates from abroad, pay their hotel rooms, pay their meals only to tell that their budgets are being cut," said Liberal critic for economic development Laurent Lessard.
The cultural representatives were flown-in from delegations located in Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo as well as from five locations in Europe and eight from North and South American continents. For the past two years the former Liberal government had cancelled plans for holding a similar meeting after it was found to be too expensive.