Quebec Ministry of Education says it fixed favoritism in grants

The first complaint about this practice dates back to February 2018, when the Liberals were in power.

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QUEBEC CITY — The province’s ombudsman says a government department was guilty of blatant favoritism in handing out money from a $60 million discretionary fund to nonprofits.

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But after a flurry of headlines and calls from the Liberals for the dismissal of the minister responsible – who was not appointed by the ombudsman – the Coalition Avenir Québec government issued a press release revealing that the ministry in question was the one education.

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And the initial complaint about the practice dates back to February 2018, when the Liberals were in power, but no action has been taken to correct what the ombudsman calls ‘gross mismanagement’ over the past four years, including most of the CAQ’s mandate.

In other words, the system has been working this way for a long time.

“New criteria, guidelines and directives have been established from April 2022 to frame and delimit the program,” said Minister of Education Bernard Drainville in a press release published at the end of the day. “To date, more than half of the recommendations made by the ombudsman have been implemented.

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The statement goes on to say that the ministry is also reviewing how the funds, which are considered discretionary and therefore less subject to administrative criteria, are distributed.

Released Thursday, it is a first report by Quebec’s new ombudsman, Marc-André Dowd, who launched the investigation on the basis of an anonymous complaint of political interference in the granting of subsidies to non-profit organizations.

Dowd didn’t like what he found and asked for corrections.

“The practices amounted to gross mismanagement,” Dowd wrote. “They constitute wrongdoing.”

Ministry officials, for example, favored nonprofits with close ties to the ministry, in some cases offering money to organizations that hadn’t even asked for help, the report said.

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Sometimes a recommendation from ministry officials not to award a grant was simply dismissed without explanation and the money was sent, according to Dowd.

“Discretion with grants has been exercised inequitably,” the report said. “In several situations, the organizations really received preferential treatment.

The report adds that the political authorities “encroach” on the role of the administration to influence the distribution of financial aid. In some cases, the office was asked to speed up the files of certain organizations in order to quickly grant them funding.

The report also indicates that there were close links between the ministry’s office and certain bodies which resulted in decisions being taken “upstream by the office”, at the level of the ministry to the detriment of the bureaucratic administration, which thought opposite.

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The Drainville office, however, played down the idea that undeserving groups might have benefited from the lack of strong controls. He said the money was spent to help Indigenous community projects, breakfast programs for disadvantaged students and money for children with learning difficulties.

For example, $10 million went to the Breakfast Club of Canada, $2.5 million to Allô prof, a student homework assistance program, and $1.2 million to La Cantine pour tous.

But earlier, members of the newly elected Liberal caucus, which ended a rocky week with nothing but negative headlines following an internal fight over who would get the job of third vice-president, thrown on the ombudsman’s report.

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Interim Liberal Leader Marc Tanguay said he was “stunned” upon reading the details of the case and said it was clear that some people, with the help of a friendly minister, were able to ” get your hands on the cookie jar”.

“How can things like this still be possible in 2022?” Tanguay fumed. He asked Prime Minister François Legault to reveal who was involved in the “distribution of the money” and to punish the person.

“(Legault) says it’s zero tolerance on ethical issues. What will Mr. Legault do? The people of Quebec are listening. It must be proactive, demand accountability and reveal who we are talking about. The sanction would be the dismissal of the minister.

Tanguay said he believes ethics will become the Achilles heel of the new CAQ government, which has 90 seats in the Legislative Assembly.

“We are asking the CAQ government to tell us which ministry was involved, which minister, which program and who benefited from the largesse. Who showered financially? Who benefited from favoritism?

The legislature resumes sitting on November 29.

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