Restaurant bills paid by public funds were reimbursed after our inquiries

Restaurant bills paid by public funds were reimbursed after our inquiries

Senior officials and elected officials recently reimbursed restaurant bills after being investigated by our investigative unit, including a Quebec representative in London who “accidentally” ordered taxpayers a meal, including a $150 bottle of wine.

The dinner paid for by Rep. Lyn Reward was one of several drinks he paid for with public funds. About ten of these dinners were never revealed to the public, again “by mistake,” we discovered.

On September 15, 2023, Mme Rivard spent $364 on a meal at a restaurant in Oslo, Norway, including a bottle of pinot noir for about $150 (adjusted based on the exchange rate on the date of the meal).

On January 9, our investigative office contacted the Ministry of International Relations and La Francophonie (MRIF) to find justification for some of the expenses, including this one.

“The bill in Oslo should not be claimed,” ministry spokesman Camille Jobin responded a week later. She explained that it was an “administrative error”.

She returns it the next day

The day after his ministry's reply, Mme Reward issued a check for full refund.

The purpose of the meal was to discuss a follow-up to a mission the representative had recently participated in, the spokesperson said.

In earlier days, Mme Rivard joined Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon on a tour of Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

During the visit, Minister Northwold visited the company's installations. Two weeks later, the Quebec government announced that it would invest up to $3 billion in public funds in its battery mega-factory located in Montérégie.

Food in Oslo is not a cost connected to this mission and it has been decided not to claim costs, we promise.

“An administrative employee was given an order to exclude this invoice which was accidentally found in a set of invoices. A newly recruited employee misunderstood the order,” writes Jobin.

Labor shortage

Our Bureau of Investigation also found that information related to the representative's nine commercial meals was not made public on the government's information dissemination site, as required by law.

Some of these invoices, obtained through the Access to Information Act, include significant alcohol expenses, including more than $170 in alcohol for a dinner for two (see boxes).

“DGQL was hit hard by labor shortages during the period targeted by these errors,” we were told. “In 2022, an ad hoc committee had to undertake certain tasks, including capturing and disclosing expenditure.”

Among the measures to prevent these mistakes from happening again, the ministry cited: increased awareness, reminders of procedures, awareness raising among new employees and inspections on a regular basis.

“Ministry […] takes the duty of transparency seriously and acts with rigor and diligence at all times,” said Jobin.

Two examples of undisclosed invoices

– On October 15, 2022, the representative was reimbursed a bill of $440, which included 4 bottles of $353 (based on the exchange rate on that date). The ministry explains that it was a final dinner for the delegation's staff who attended the Arctic Circle General Meeting in Reykjavík. The delegation consisted of about twenty people.

– On December 14, 2022, spent $423, including $172 in wine (a bottle of Chancerre at $108 and two glasses of rosé at $32 each) dining with the head of a British company. However, the ministry is not clear about the reasons for this food and the identity of this person.

We say the purpose of the meeting is to “create strategic partnerships for several Quebec companies, including in the real estate market and energy efficiency sectors.”

In Rome, we love the Romans

Some of Rep. Line Rewards' restaurant bills include significant amounts of alcohol. On a bill for $675 for 3 at Selfridges restaurant in London on April 14, 2023, $320 (£192) was spent on 3 cocktails, two bottles of wine and another glass (subject to meal date conversion rates). )

On November 10, 2022, while feeding two people at the exclusive private club Annabelle's, the rep charged $185 (£109) for a bottle of Chablis, one of the world's finest. The total value of this bill is $513.

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These expenses are in line with the Ministry guidelines on the recognition of alcohol expenses in receptions or representation expenses.

“Expenses must be fair and reasonable, comply with the customs of the country, take into account the cost of living that differs from one country to another and respect the principles of responsible management of public funds,” explains Camille Jobin.

At the Ministry, we are reminded that one of the mandates of Quebec representatives abroad is to “campaign for representation and business”. These representatives represent Quebec's image internationally and diplomatic relations must respect a certain decorum, the MRIF continues.

Thus, on April 14th, Mme Rivard invited “one player who has mastered the dynamics of emerging industries, mainly in the United Kingdom, and another who works in administration in an academic environment at one of the major British universities.” We were unable to obtain further details.

And in Montreal, they're paying back

Mayor Valérie Plante, her general manager Serge Lamontagne and other Montreal officials also reimbursed alcohol costs after our questions or our reports.

A bug begs the CEO

Last November, the Director General of the City of Montreal, Serge Lamontagne, returned the $217.69 invoice dated April 2023 after questions from our investigative unit.

It was two bottles of Sauvignon blanc for £126 at Dishoom, an Indian restaurant in London's Covent Garden.

The general manager said it was a good faith mistake.

“Cost Mr. was made by Lamontagne, and the amount was billed to his personal credit card, as his goal was to pick up 100% of the bill himself. “Unfortunately, this invoice was one of the costs reimbursed by the city,” said Gonzalo Nunez, spokesperson for the City of Montreal.

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The mayor pays back

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has returned $526.72 billed to Montreal taxpayers to the city's coffers following our questions about a drunken dinner in Vienna.

The dinner was attended by 12 Montreal guests, including the mayor and three members of the community, during which eight bottles of wine were consumed.

“The event was mistakenly thought of as a welcome and inauguration gathering,” explained the mayor's spokeswoman Catherine Gadot in November.

Amount of bottles refunded before tip.

“I sincerely apologize,” Em said at the plant on the day its most recent budget was submitted.

Proactive managers

At the time our investigative bureau revealed the dubious expenses of the leaders of the Office de Consultation Public de Montreal, the executives of another organization connected to the city of Montreal were reimbursing old alcohol expenses.

Leaders of the Société du parc Jean-Drapeau (SPJD) have cleaned up some of their bills for 2023 and 2022 with the aim of being “prototypical,” director Véronique Doucet said in an interview.

Thus, liquor expenses totaling $535 were reimbursed for three executive dinners.

Mme Doucet acknowledged that our reporting “spurred” thinking about spending guidelines and prompted a review of invoices since he became head of SPJD.

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