EMSB vows to co-operate with province's probe into 'troubling and serious' allegations of mismanagement

The English Montreal School Board says it has "absolutely nothing to hide" after the province's Education Ministry announced Wednesday it had launched an investigation into mismanagement at the institution.

Education Ministry to investigate management, work environment at English Montreal School Board

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge says the probe will look into allegations surrounding contracts awarded by the board, as well as work environment and governance issues. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The English Montreal School Board says it has "absolutely nothing to hide" after the province's Education Ministry announced Wednesday it had launched an investigation into the institution.

In a statement, spokesperson Mike Cohen said the province will have the "full co-operation of the EMSB's governance and management in the completion of their work."

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said earlier his ministry will undertake an "exhaustive" probe into "troubling and serious allegations" about irregularities in the awarding of contracts related to vocational training.

He said the board entered into partnerships with organizations that are not recognized by the Education Ministry and which provide "substandard instruction."

The investigation comes as the CAQ prepares to abolish school boards, but Roberge said the investigation has nothing to do with that plan. The EMSB is the largest English-language school board in the province.

"It's essential to maintain bonds of trust between the EMSB and the community, and the weight of [these] allegations threatens those bonds," Roberge told reporters at a news conference in Quebec City.

The allegations that prompted the probe date back to 2009, and there have been no new allegations since the Coalition Avenir Québec came to power in October, Roberge said.

"They are numerous and serious allegations. We asked questions, and the answers we [received] didn't reassure us that the governance problems were solved. We need to go further," he said.

The investigation will include two controversial contracts related to recruiting Chinese and South Korean students, Roberge said.

In the case of the South Korean students, a recruiter promised them visas that would allow them to work and eventually apply for permanent residency, but some ended up working illegally for less than minimum wage upon arriving in Montreal.

In the EMSB's statement, Cohen said the announcement of the inquiry "has caught us completely by surprise given the fact that the previous Liberal government had assigned two auditors to review certain EMSB practices. One found no irregularities and the other deposited her report with former minister Sébastien Proulx in June 2017." 

"The EMSB never heard back from the Ministry about the second report. Our natural conclusion over the last eighteen months is that again, there were no irregularities," Cohen said.

Chair found guilty in ethics probe

Roberge said work environment issues at the board are also part of the investigation. The EMSB has been beset by infighting for years.

Board chair Angela Mancini was found guilty of four breaches of the EMSB's code of ethics last year.

The complaints stemmed from an in-camera meeting in 2016, when the EMSB's director general, Ann Marie Matheson, said things that "displeased" Mancini, said Joe Ortona, the EMSB vice-chair.

Ortona said because the meeting wasn't public, he cannot reveal what was said, but it was after that meeting that Mancini's attitude and the way she treated board employees took a turn for the worse.

"Her tone, demeanour, attitude, is inappropriate, and there's a clear hostility during the meetings and just an overall disdain for the director general," he said.

Angela Mancini, right, was re-elected as English Montreal School Board chair in 2014. (CBC)

Mancini has been ordered to apologize to Matheson and to Benoît Duhême, the EMSB's assistant director general.

Ortona said Mancini hasn't attended an EMSB meeting since October. Mancini has not returned CBC's requests for comment.

Report due in September

The results of the probe are due Sept. 10, but investigators have been mandated to inform Roberge of any changes that should be made before that deadline.

The former Liberal government appointed an auditor, Michelle Lapointe, to look into the management of Montreal's two English-language school boards in 2016.

Roberge said Lapointe came to the conclusion that the issues had to be examined further, and he questioned why the Liberals had not done so.

At the time, UPAC was also investigating both school boards. Roberge said Wednesday he doesn't know the status of those investigations.

With files from Jay Turnbull


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