Agriculture minister says he actually didn't fire whistleblower, demands inquiry
'In fact, a minister does not hire or fire officials,' says André Lamontagne in a statement
Quebec Agriculture Minister André Lamontagne says he mispoke last week when he told reporters it was his decision to fire a whistleblowing bureaucrat.
Now, Lamontagne says he wants an inquiry into the matter.
Louis Robert, a veteran agronomist with the province's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, was fired last month for sharing private documents over to Radio-Canada that backed his claims of private-sector interference in a public study of pesticide use.
Lamontagne told reporters last Thursday it was his decision and he was comfortable with that decision.
On Monday, he backed down from those comments.
"I got caught up in the action, and my experience as an entrepreneur and team player kicked in," he said at a news conference.
In a statement, he added that he "made a mistake by taking on my shoulders the weight of this decision, which is actually an administrative decision.
"In the heat of the moment, I did not speak well. In fact, a minister does not hire or fire officials. And I did not intervene in any way."
Lamontagne said he recognizes that his original comments were troubling to the population, adding, "I can understand if the public's trust has been affected."
In his statement, the minister said he asked the Quebec ombudsman to focus on four aspects in particular. He wants it to ensure the firing was properly dealt with within the applicable legal framework and ensure the firing does not constitute retaliation.
The inquiry would also ensure that Robert's rights were respected and confirm that Lamontagne had no involvement in Robert's dismissal.
The union representing Quebec professionals, the SPGQ, has stated its intention to defend Robert "to the end."
According to the SPGQ, it would be "unheard of" for a minister to directly end the dismissal of a public servant who is five levels lower than him.
Under Quebec's whistleblower legislation, a person may choose to share information with his or her department, pass it on to a police force or submit it the province's anti-corruption commissioner.
According to Radio-Canada, Robert tried to raise his concerns last year internally, but his superiors turned a blind eye, so he brought his proof to the media, sharing documents to back his claims.
With files from Verity Stevenson and La Presse Canadienne