Quebec Liberal spending questioned

Questions surrounding lavish spending at Quebec’s cultural business development agency continue to dog culture minister Christine Saint-Pierre, who was forced Saturday to defend the government’s long delay in investigating the institution’s spendthrift ways.

LAVAL, Que. — Questions surrounding lavish spending at Quebec’s cultural business development agency continue to dog culture minister Christine Saint-Pierre, who was forced Saturday to defend the government’s long delay in investigating the institution’s spendthrift ways.

Saint-Pierre said she’d heard rumours about spending by agency head Jean-Guy Chaput when she was elected two years ago but only acted in 2008 after naming a new board chairperson, Jean Pronovost.

Pronovost was quick to ask the province’s auditor general for an audit into expenditures at the Societe de development des entreprises culturelles, or SODEC, Saint-Pierre told the media during a news conference at a Liberal council meeting taking place this weekend.

“You don’t make accusations based on rumours, without any facts,” Saint-Pierre said. “Mr. Pronovost was the man who took charge of this file at my request.”

The report by Quebec auditor general Renaud Lachance on the SODEC — a government agency that promotes and supports Quebec culture here and abroad — was released last week.

In the audit, Lachance deemed Chaput’s spending “sumptuous” and highlighted extravagant expenditures on travel, meals and hotels. They included a week-long stay at a $1,300-a-night hotel room in Cannes, France and claims receipts for restaurant meals from the Paris-based European operations totalling $80,000. In one year, Chaput’s personal travel, lodging and meal expenditures totalled $48,000. Expense claims for employee lunches over a two-year period in Montreal came to $22,750. At this year’s addition of the Cannes film fest, SODEC’s spending of public funds came to $262,206.

Saint-Pierre called into question Chaput’s ability to continue to manage the cultural promotions agency. The SODEC president — whose term ends in October — has headed the agency for the last five years. He has been told his contract would not be renewed. On Friday, a visibly irritated Premier Jean Charest called the spending violations unacceptable and said it would be difficult for Chaput to complete his term after losing the government’s trust.

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