The Parti Québécois government has been hit with allegations of patronage and favouritism over the lucrative appointment of former party leader André Boisclair, who was named Quebec's delegate general in New York last month.
When Mr. Boisclair was named to the post, the PQ failed to mention that he was also appointed assistant deputy minister of International Affairs. The unprecedented move makes Mr. Boisclair, 46, eligible to receive the full benefits granted to a senior civil servant after he completes his term as delegate general – including lifetime job security in the civil service with a minimum annual salary of $170,000 indexed to the cost of living.
He is also eligible at the age of 55 to a generous pension, which he will receive over and above what he gets for having served as a Member of the National Assembly for more than 15 years.
"Even the Liberals, who were the champions of partisan nominations, never did this," said Coalition Avenir Quebec House Leader Gérard Deltell. "The government has created quite a precedent where from now on partisan diplomatic nominations will be covered by a golden parachute."
The controversy erupted just as Premier Pauline Marois had Yves-François Blanchet sworn in as Quebec's new environment minister, a position held until last week by Daniel Breton.
Mr. Breton resigned after his troubled past came to light, including EI-related fraud and non-payment of rent. He was also under attack for having met with members of the environmental assessment board, which, according to the opposition, amounted to political interference, compromising the board's independence.
By moving quickly to replace Mr. Breton, Ms. Marois hoped to turn the page on the incident but found herself on the defensive over the Boisclair nomination.
Minister of International Affairs Jean-François Lisée attempted to justify the appointment by saying that it was a practice borrowed from the federal government, and used the example of Canadian ambassador to France, Lawrence Cannon, to make his point.
"Lawrence Cannon is the Canadian ambassador in Paris and he was named simultaneously assistant deputy minister to Foreign Affairs and ambassador to Paris," Mr. Lisée said in the National Assembly.
Mr. Lisée's statement, the CAQ charged, was misleading. "Mr. Cannon wasn't given the job security offered Mr. Boisclair. Mr. Lisée misled the National Assembly," said CAQ Leader François Legault.
Even the pro-sovereignty Quebec Solidaire party attacked the PQ for what it called the "taste of patronage" and "favouritism."
"While the Quebec government is telling the middle class and the poorest members of society that they should tighten their belts, this nomination frankly is indecent," said QS party co-leader Françoise David.
Yet, Ms. Marois, who promised during the election campaign to put an end to what she called the patronage and favouritism of the former Liberal regime that fuelled a system of corruption in the province, stood steadfast behind the decision to hire Mr. Boisclair.
"Nobody can call into question the competence and credentials of André Boisclair … he almost became premier of Quebec," Ms. Marois said in defending the nomination.
In fact, when Mr. Boisclair was elected party leader in 2005, he led the PQ in the general election two years later to one of its poorest results to date, driving it down to third-party status in the National Assembly.
This was not Mr. Lisée's first controversial appointment. He is also minister responsible for Montreal and he appointed as deputy minister André Lavallée, a close associate of Gérald Tremblay, who resigned as mayor amid allegations of kickbacks and influence peddling. Mr. Lavallée denied having any knowledge of the system of corruption that, according to testimony before the Charbonneau Commission, was rampant in the city.