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Quebec Liberals apologize for comments against PQ, bonuses

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, centre left, gives the thumbs up after taking the official photo of his new cabinet, during a ceremony Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City. Two Quebec cabinet ministers embroiled in controversy have been forced to reverse course and apologize as Mr. Couillard tries to refocus his Liberal government.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Two Quebec cabinet ministers embroiled in controversy have been forced to reverse course and apologize as Premier Philippe Couillard tries to refocus his Liberal government.

International Relations Minister Christine St-Pierre apologized on Wednesday and withdrew a suggestion she made last week that her Parti Québécois predecessor, Jean-François Lisée, used public funds to pay for his private travels in France. Mr. Lisée had threatened to sue her.

Hours earlier, Education Minister Yves Bolduc made a commitment to repay some of the $215,000 in bonuses he was paid for taking on 1,500 new patients during the 18 months he was moonlighting as a family physician while sitting as a Member of the National Assembly.

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After a week of saying he had done nothing wrong, Mr. Bolduc said he would repay half the money he collected for patients he treated for less than 12 months, and would donate the other half to charity. Officials from Quebec's health insurance program will calculate the amounts to be repaid, he said.

"I should take this occasion to apologize to my patients, who I had to leave behind when I chose politics," Mr. Bolduc said.

Mr. Bolduc admitted public pressure and a chat with the Premier on Wednesday helped him realize it did not look good that he collected thousands of dollars in bonuses for patients he dropped months later when the Liberals took power.

But Mr. Bolduc will keep thousands of dollars he collected for the patients he treated for more than 12 months, which the Parti Québécois said runs contrary to the spirit of the bonus program, which was intended to help fix a shortage of family doctors in Quebec by encouraging physicians to take on more patients.

"It's the good old Liberal Party," said Agnès Maltais, the PQ House Leader.

"He was unreasonable. He profited to the maximum from the program that he designed [as Health Minister]. He should repay the maximum."

Mr. Couillard came to power in April promising a new era of transparency and positive politics. In the past week, two of his ministers have issued apologies in addition to Mr. Bolduc's turnaround.

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Ms. St-Pierre said she met with Mr. Lisée on Wednesday to apologize for suggesting the 10 or 11 trips he took to France during the 18 months he was in government were orchestrated so he could meet with his wife and two children, who were living near Paris.

"I understand Mr. Lisée and his spouse were hurt by my words, and I apologize," she said, adding that her department is reviewing Mr. Lisée's travel expenses and will release the results later. "It wasn't my intention to hurt anyone. The case is closed and out of my hands."

Mr. Lisée said he accepted Ms. St-Pierre's apology.

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