Quebec premier stands by transport minister despite 'extremely serious' revelations

While Premier Philippe Couillard admits the explosive allegations about goings-on in the Transport Ministry by two former ministry investigators are “extremely serious,” he says he is standing by Jacques Daoust.

Parti Québécois, Coalition Avenir Québec calling for heads to roll

Premier Philippe Couillard speaks to reporters about issues within the Ministry of Transport June 9, 2016. (Radio-Canada)

While Premier Philippe Couillard admits the explosive allegations about goings-on in the Transport Ministry by two former ministry investigators are "extremely serious," he says he is standing by the department's minister, Jacques Daoust.

Couillard said he is committed to overhauling the way things are done within the ministry. He said that tampering with documents and turning a blind eye to irregularities, as investigators have alleged, are not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Couillard said he has spoken to both Daoust and deputy minister Denis Marsolais and asked Marsolais to do everything possible to change "the deeper problem of the culture."

"I told him all the resources he needs will be made available," Couillard said, adding he expects Marsolais will soon start making the changes.

But despite growing calls to remove Daoust from his cabinet post, Couillard said that doing so would not solve the ministry's problems.

Bombshell allegations

MNAs got a taste of just how big those problems are on Wednesday evening, when a parliamentary committee heard a number of allegations about the Transport Ministry's lack of transparency.

Annie Trudel, a former investigator with the provincial anti-corruption unit (UPAC) who was hired by ex-transport minister Robert Poeti to investigate the Transport Ministry, and Louise Boily, a former internal auditor in the ministry, appeared before the committee.

Former Transport Ministry auditor Louise Boily and Annie Trudel, who was hired to investigate the ministry then quit, wait to testify at a legislature committee Wednesday, June 8, 2016 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Trudel quit last April, accusing ministry officials of blocking her attempts to do her job.

In her testimony Wednesday, Trudel said emails that proved employees were putting up obstacles disappeared from the USB key on which she'd saved them – a USB key that she subsequently turned over to Daoust.

Daoust gave the key to UPAC. Last week, UPAC reluctantly handed the USB key over to the the parliamentary committee on public administration in a closed-door session. 

Boily, in her testimony, said the reports she submitted about the inner working of the ministry were altered before being provided to MNAs.

She said one report was missing eight pages about verifications of the awarding of contracts.

Boily also said she had informed Dominique Savoie, former deputy transport minister, about irregularities in the management of contracts – a statement that contradicts Savoie's testimony before the committee.

'Heads should roll'

Both CAQ Leader François Legault and Interim PQ Leader Sylvain Gaudreault called for Daoust to be fired.

Gaudreault said Daoust is a minister that gets entwined in scandals instead of putting a stop to them.

"To end a culture like the one within the MTQ … we need a minister who is strong. Right now, that's not what we have," he said.

Legault also wants the deputy minister to be replaced by someone outside the government. A new minister and deputy minister, Legault said, should be forced to testify in front of a parliamentary commission every three months.

"We must use all our energy to fight this cancer at the Transport Ministry that is doing nothing but increasing public cynicism toward politics," he said.

Martine Ouellet, Parti Québécois transport critic, said she believes that parliamentarians were "deceived."

"Clearly, there was manipulation. Was it beneficial to someone? That is the question. We don't have an answer. And if so, to whom? That's why we need to continue to ask questions," she said.

Éric Caire, deputy parliamentary leader for Coalition Avenir Québec, said "heads should roll" and that the first person who should be fired from government is Savoie.

Savoie was removed from her job as deputy transport minister last month, when allegations of improprieties within her department surfaced. She is awaiting reassignment.