Top bureaucrat, chief of staff lose jobs at Transports Québec amid corruption allegations

Dominique Savoie, the province's deputy transportation minister, has been removed from her job amid allegations of shady practices within the department.

Dominique Savoie's ex-boss, MNA Robert Poeti, brought allegations of irregularities in ministry to light

The former Quebec deputy transport minister, Dominique Savoie, testifies at a legislature committee on transport, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The top bureaucrat at Quebec's Transport Ministry and the top advisor to the transport minister have lost their jobs over  a stalled investigation into allegations of intimidation and corruption at the ministry. 

Premier Philippe Couillard announced on Thursday that the deputy transport minister, Dominique Savoie, was being relieved of her functions.

Transport Minister Jacques Daoust later announced that he was replacing his chief of staff, Pierre Ouellet. The move was necessary, Daoust said, to "maintain the public trust in political institutions."

Concerns about shady dealings at Transports Québec surfaced publicly in a recent interview that former transport minister Robert Poeti gave to the French-language magazine L'actualité

The story detailed Poeti's claims that Transports Québec employees were being intimidated into awarding contracts to certain people and that cost overruns on public projects were being hidden.

Poeti told the magazine he asked Savoie to intervene in some situations and change certain practices, but he was shuffled out of cabinet in January.

Savoie told reporters on Wednesday she had nothing to be ashamed of. She was unavailable for comment on Thursday.

"I've been in the public service for almost 30 years. I have a great, honest career, I am very comfortable and very proud to work at the Transport Ministry," she said.

Couillard denies cover-up

​Following the publication of the L'actualité story, opposition parties accused Couillard of demoting Poeti to stifle his work in uncovering and fixing the irregularities within the ministry.

Couillard said he was insulted by the accusation. He added that he knew nothing of Poeti's findings and that his demotion was to make room for more women and younger MNAs in cabinet.

Daoust, Poeti's replacement, turned 68 in February.  

In an effort to prove he only learned of Poeti's concerns after he was removed from cabinet, Couillard tabled a letter that Poeti wrote to Daoust in April.

In the letter, Poeti warns Daoust about a series of internal practices that he found worrying. Among the things that Poeti points out is that ex-ministry employees had been awarded contracts without tender.

Investigator describes hitting roadblocks

The premier also announced the creation of an inspector general position within the Transport Ministry.

Couillard said he made that decision after reading the resignation letter written by Annie Trudel, a former investigator with the provincial anti-corruption unit who Poeti hired to investigate the department.

The content of Trudel's letter, Couillard said, was "likely to undermine public confidence" in the ministry, which spurred him to act.

Radio-Canada obtained a copy of the letter, which is addressed to the transport minister's chief of staff, Ouellet.

Trudel, who Poeti hired in 2014, wrote about running into a series of roadblocks while carrying out her probe into the ministry's inner workings, including being denied access to information she requested.

She also wrote that following the cabinet shuffle, she found it more difficult to work with the department, to the point where her efforts were rendered "useless."

"Under the circumstances, since I no longer see how I am useful at the ministry and since I feel a deep uneasiness about squandering public money working to respond to superfluous requests, I'm ending my contract," she wrote.

With files from Ryan Hicks and The Canadian Press