Friday, February 9, 2007

Quebec and Ottawa refuse to defend lieutenant-governor's spending habits

Quebec and Ottawa refuse to defend lieutenant-governor's spending habits
February 9th, 2007

Quebec's lieutenant-governor is getting little help from either the federal or provincial government in defending herself against concerns about her spending habits.

According to government documents obtained by Le Journal de Montreal, federal authorities repeatedly questioned Lt.-Gov. Lise Thibault's spending practices between 2000 and 2004.

Among the receipts raising eyebrows are those for a $59,000 garden party, a $30,000 Christmas party and bills for three different meals that were had simultaneously at three different restaurants.

"It's up to the . . . lieutenant-governor to explain certain spending decisions that she would have decided to make," Quebec Premier Jean Charest said Friday.

In Ottawa, both the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP are calling on the Conservative government to demand an explanation from Thibault.

Federal Heritage Minister Bev Oda told The Canadian Press on Friday that she will order a report into the expense accounts of all the lieutenant-governors in the country.

But Oda rejected the idea of investigating Thibault's spending habits in particular. She said the provincial representatives of the Queen can do whatever they want with the $147,000 annual stipend Ottawa provides.

Charest said the purchases that have raised concern were made with Thibault's federal allotment and not with the $858,000 that the Quebec government provides the lieutenant-governor.

"For us, as far as I know, (the spending) didn't pose a particular problem," Charest said.

Thibault has reportedly refused to explain her spending decisions to bureaucrats, saying it's personal information.

On Friday, Thibault defended her expense by citing the "intensity" of public life.

"Since my nomination, I act in a responsible and rigorous manner in using public funds," she said in a brief statement, adding that she travels some 150,000 kilometres across Quebec each year.

Parti Quebecois Leader Andre Boisclair criticized the lieutenant-governor's lack of transparency.

"If she was elected, you would have been at her door asking questions a long time ago," Boisclair told reporters Friday while visiting factory workers west of Montreal.

"I don't understand why this person, despite the respect that I can have for her, that the institution she represents isn't more accountable to the population."

Thibault's critics in Ottawa are unhappy with what they see as unnecessary spending.

"We should indicate to Her Excellency that it's zero tolerance for appalling excess," the NDP's Pat Martin told the House of Commons Friday.

The Bloc Quebecois went even further, asking the government to monitor the spending of all the country's lieutenant-governors.

"The government has to move on this and really decide to put measures in place so that all the lieutenant-governors shed light on their expenses," said Bloc MP Monique Guay.

Thibault's expenses have increased in recent years. She asked Heritage Canada to refund $135,000 worth of expenses in 1997-1998. That amount rose to $223,000 in 2002-2003.

In 2004, Ottawa limited its annual contribution to the current $147,000 stipend.