Outcry grows over fired Agriculture Ministry whistleblower, as CAQ dodges questions
Opposition parties unite to call for reinstatement of seed expert who warned of pesticide industry meddling
Pressure is increasing on the Coalition Avenir Québec government to reinstate a whistleblower fired from his job last month after exposing private-sector meddling in pesticide research.
MNAs from all three opposition parties in the National Assembly criticized the government's treatment of Louis Robert, a seed expert with 32 years' experience in the Ministry of Agriculture.
"There are two issues here: protections for whistleblowers ... and the public's health," said Gaétan Barrette, Treasury Board critic for the Quebec Liberals, Thursday.
Robert provided documents to Radio-Canada last year that exposed attempts by the grain industry to influence publicly funded research into agricultural pesticides.
Radio-Canada reported that industry representatives were pressuring scientists to avoid publicizing findings that demonstrated neonicotinoids — a class of insecticides — are harmful to bees and other pollinating insects.
Even though Quebec has a law to protect whistleblowers, Premier François Legault backed the Agriculture Ministry's decision to fire Robert.
Quebec's ombudsman has since opened an investigation into possible violations of the whistleblower legislation.
Petition calling for reinstatement
A union representing public-sector workers launched an online petition this week that calls for Robert to be given his old job back, and for additional protections for whistleblowers.
"He was unjustifiably let go because he dared to alert public opinion about things that were very alarming in terms of the use of pesticides and private influence over public research," said Richard Perron, president of the Syndicat des professionnels du gouvernement du Québec (SPGQ).
Perron was joined by Barrette, as well as representatives from the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire, at a news conference in Quebec City.
"This petition aligns perfectly with our concerns," said the PQ's agriculture critic, Sylvain Roy. "The issue of health and food security are fundamental in this debate."
Agriculture Minister André Lamontagne has made a number of confusing and contradictory comments about Robert's firing.
Lamontagne first indicated he authorized Robert's dismissal. He then said he misspoke — that he'd had nothing to do with it.
He also initially said Robert's dismissal had had nothing to do with his actions as a whistleblower.
But Radio-Canada later obtained the dismissal letter, which indicated Robert was let go for demonstrating a lack of loyalty in leaking documents to the media.
The opposition critics say they've directed nearly 40 questions about the matter to the government over the past two weeks in the National Assembly.
"With every question for the agriculture minister, his answers only raise more questions," said Marie Montpetit, the Liberal agriculture critic.
"We want to shed light on what happened."