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Marois retracts sweetheart deal for former PQ party leader

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois grimaces at a news conference after she announced the changes in the hiring of Andre Boisclair in New York, Thursday, December 6, 2012, at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It has been one setback after another for Parti Québécois Premier Pauline Marois's fledgling government, with the latest incident involving a lucrative appointment that, according to critics, smacked of patronage and favouritism.

On Thursday, Ms. Marois rescinded a deal involving the appointment of former PQ leader André Boisclair as the province's delegate general in New York that included a second job in the civil service as assistant deputy minister. Mr. Boisclair, 46, will keep the $170,000-a-year temporary assignment in New York, but give up the civil service appointment with its lifetime job security and equivalent salary.

The public outcry over the lucrative and unprecedented deal undermined Ms. Marois's ability to project an image of a transparent and upright government. The appointment was viewed as a partisan nomination tainted with the same kind of favouritism that the PQ had spent the entire election campaign criticizing. "I heard the various points of views and judgments made by people on this situation and I don't want my government to be attacked on ethical questions," Ms. Marois said in a hastily called news conference on Thursday. "I am therefore acting quickly to rectify this situation and make sure that in appointments such as the one involving Mr. Boisclair we have the criteria to base our decisions."

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Minister of International Affairs Jean-François Lisée, who appointed Mr. Boislcair, admitted the move was turning public opinion against the PQ. "We misread the situation. We should have done things differently," Mr. Lisée said. "Quebeckers hold the Parti Québécois to a much higher standard. … People are right to expect more. We are going to give them more. That is why we are making this change."

The climb-down was another in a series of reversals made by the PQ government since taking power less than three months ago. Ms. Marois backpedaled on her commitment to abolish the health tax and tabled a softer language law than promised. Just last week, former environment minister Daniel Breton resigned after reports of unpaid rent, convictions for unemployment insurance fraud and a suspended driver's licence.

The opposition parties had a field day with the PQ's awkward style of government. "This was recognition on the part of Ms. Marois of an error of judgment," interim Liberal leader Jean-Marc Fournier said of the decision.

Coalition Avenir Québec François Legault said it was proof of how disconnected Ms. Marois was with voters. "When you read the headlines over the last three months, the words that keep popping up are 'the PQ backtracks.' We have to question Ms. Marois' judgment," Mr. Legault said.

Ms. Marois will set up a committee to examine and define criteria for partisan nominations. She didn't exclude the possibility of Mr. Boisclair eventually becoming a senior public servant should he meet the committee's criteria for holding such a position.

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