Agriculture minister fired whistleblower who sounded alarm on pesticide use
Patrice Bergeron, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, January 30, 2019 5:18PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 30, 2019 7:16PM EST
Quebec Agriculture Minister Andre Lamontagne is defending a decision to fire a whistleblowing bureaucrat who went to the media with concerns about pesticide use.
While the province has legislation protecting whistleblowers, Lamontagne says there are other factors that led to the dismissal of department agronomist Louis Robert.
Radio-Canada reported last year that Robert, a seed expert, had spoken out against private-sector interference in a public study on pesticide use. Last Thursday, Robert was fired for transmitting a confidential document to a reporter and contravening secrecy obligations.
Quebec's whistleblower law protects employees who disclose information within their department. But disclosure to the public is protected only if the employee believes there is a serious risk to health, safety or the environment.
Lamontagne told reporters outside the Coalition Avenir Quebec caucus meeting that he was briefed on the matter after being named minister last fall.
"It's my decision, so I'm very comfortable with my decision," he said. He remained vague about the reasons for the firing but suggested there were other factors at play.
The president of the SPGQ, the union representing Robert, said he is "profoundly troubled" by the firing. Richard Perron said he has never seen a minister intervene in the dismissal of an employee five levels below him in the bureaucratic hierarchy.
"Why did he get involved? It's bizarre," Perron told The Canadian Press.
He maintained Robert's action involved a clash between public health and major financial interests, and the minister sided with producers of potentially dangerous pesticides.