Pre-Kindergarten mea culpa: Education Minister reprimanded for paying experts
The Minister of Education, Jean-Francois Roberge, apologized Thursday for contravening practices concerning the reimbursement of expenses for witnesses in parliamentary committee.
He finally acknowledged his mistake on Thursday in a parliamentary scrum after having maintained for several weeks that it was okay to reimburse the travel expenses of New Yorkers and Ontarians who supported his bill.
The day before, Roberge was called to order by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Francois Paradis.
In a written decision sent to the Parti Quebecois and the Quebec Liberal Party, Paradis recalled that the practice "to date" prohibits the reimbursement of travel expenses of witnesses in parliamentary committee by ministries or public bodies.
He pointed out a parliamentary committee could decide to reimburse, out of its budget, the expenses incurred by a witness when the presence of the latter is considered essential. However this normally does not happen.
On Thursday, Roberge began by saying that this directive was "fuzzy" and that he was pleased that Paradis clarified it.
He ended up admitting that he had made a mistake in bringing these groups to Quebec on all-expenses paid trips instead of using videoconferencing, which has been available in the National Assembly since 2009.
He also admitted that his team did not do all the necessary checks.
"Legault said it in his inaugural speech: Quebecers expect us to work very hard, to be attentive, honest and able to admit it when we make a mistake, did he declare. Yes, it was unclear, but it was still a mistake not to do all, all, all the checks and not to have them videoconferenced. We should have had them videoconferenced. (...) Now that it's clear, we'll follow the rules," said Roberge.
Quebec Solidaire also asked for an investigation by the Ethics Commissioner. The political party believes that Roberge's move "opens the door to appearances of conflicts of interest" and sets a precedent by "creating categories of stakeholders during special consultations: those whose expenses are incurred by their participation are compensated and those who have to pay everything out of pocket."