Christmas came late this year for Premier Pauline Marois and her Parti Québécois government.
Usually, the holidays begin for a government when the National Assembly goes into winter recess and attention turns away from politics.
But in the week since the Assembly adjourned on Dec. 7, the three-month-old government was again embarrassed by disclosures that some of its members have failed to live up to the standards of ethical and administrative rigour that the government has promised.
It has got to the point that this week, Deputy Premier François Gendron stepped up in Marois’s place and publicly rebuked two of his cabinet colleagues.
One was Culture Minister Maka Kotto, who was responsible for spending a total of $64,000, against the advice of civil servants, to summon his department’s representatives posted abroad to an unnecessary meeting in Montreal.
The other was International Relations Minister Jean-François Lisée, who had been receiving an outside income from the Université de Montréal.
Gendron was irked because Kotto’s squandering public funds and Lisée’s collecting $8,667 a month from a publicly financed university were disclosed the week after the government announced spending cutbacks bound to affect public services.
Among them were $124 million in budget cuts that the universities must absorb over the next four months.
Lisée announced that he would give up the second salary, which he was to receive from the university until next February under a severance agreement, a day after Le Journal de Montréal disclosed it.
He would do so even though he had been assured by the Assembly’s ethics commissioner that the second income did not violate the code of ethics for MNAs.
That is, he had done nothing wrong, and he would stop doing it.
Actually, Lisée will continue to collect from the university, but turn the money over to charity. This, as Le Journal reported, could entitle him to a tax credit allowing him to keep half the amount of the salary.
Lisée had reason to know that his double-dipping would become a political problem if it became public knowledge.
That’s because he was an adviser to former PQ premier Lucien Bouchard when the latter was forced to give up a second income in the form of his pension as a former member of Parliament.
It was the second time in as many weeks that the former journalist had been found lacking in transparency.
The week before, Lisée had to apologize for first concealing a deal giving former PQ leader André Boisclair an income for life starting at $170,000 a year and indexed to the cost of living, and then misleading the Assembly about it.
In its first three months in office, the Marois government has become known for first saying one thing, then doing another.
In addition to failing to live up to the standards promised by the PQ, it has reneged on campaign commitments and retreated from hastily improvised policy announcements.
And if political images are shaped by editorial cartoons, then the PQ should be concerned by a couple that were published on Thursday in the French-language press.
One, in sovereignty-friendly Le Devoir, essentially called Lisée a cheat and showed him carrying briefcases overflowing with cash — like Bonhomme Carnaval in a controversial 2010 Maclean’s magazine cover illustration on Quebec corruption.
The other, in Le Journal de Montréal, was a parody of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper.
It showed Marois, Lisée, Kotto, Boisclair and other members and friends of the government at a table marked “buffet” and laden with banknotes and moneybags bearing the PQ logo.
For Marois and her government, Christmas this year can’t come soon enough.