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Quebec party to refund $200 to grieving parents pressured to pay for access to minister

Click to play video: 'Fallout continues for CAQ party after grieving parents made to pay $200 to meet with minister'
Fallout continues for CAQ party after grieving parents made to pay $200 to meet with minister
WATCH: The fallout continues for the CAQ government over its fundraising tactics involving a grieving couple. The couple said it felt pressured to pay $200 to meet with the transport minister at cocktail fundraiser. The pair has been fighting to have blood alcohol limits reduced in Quebec after losing their daughter in a 2017 car crash. As Global’s Tim Sargeant reports, they have been offered an apology and reimbursement but the battle to change the law continues. – Feb 9, 2024

The Coalition Avenir Québec will refund the grieving parents of a woman killed in a car crash after the couple said they felt pressured to pay for access to the province’s transport minister.

Brigitte Legault, the CAQ’s director general, said in a statement to Global News that Antoine Bittar and Élizabeth Rivera accepted the reimbursement of $200 Friday.

“The party will reimburse them directly,” Legault said, adding the couple is free to donate the money to an organization of their choice.

The move comes as the CAQ found itself in hot water since Bittar and Rivera spoke about their experience during a hearing into a new road safety bill Thursday at the legislature.

The couple lost their 26-year-old daughter Jessica in a car crash in 2017. Since her death, they have advocated for tougher laws against impaired driving. They both became heavily involved in Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Rivera is now the Montreal chapter’s president, while her husband is a board member.

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The couple said they reached out to CAQ MNA Marilyne Picard about their cause to lower the blood-alcohol limit for drivers from 0.8 to 0.5 in Quebec.

Click to play video: 'Grieving parents say they felt pressured to pay to meet with Quebec transport minister'
Grieving parents say they felt pressured to pay to meet with Quebec transport minister

Bittar said an employee from Picard’s office offered a meeting with Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault at a fundraising cocktail last October.

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They each paid $100 — the maximum annual political donation — to speak to Guilbault. The couple said they were each offered two minutes with the transport minister at the fundraiser.

During the hearing Thursday, Rivera said she was “disappointed” after their brief chat with Guilbault and that she “found it unacceptable that we were asked to pay $200 to meet the minister.”

On Thursday, Guilbault said she had no idea the couple were asked to pay money to meet her and that it was an employee of another member of the legislature who had invited them.

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Meanwhile, Picard apologized for the incident on behalf of herself and her office on social media. She called it an “error in judgment.”

But the fallout continues for the CAQ, which came under fire Friday from opposition parties.

MADD Montreal president Elizabeth Rivera hangs a red ribbon in a tree in honour of her daughter, who died in a 2017 impaired driving accident. Dan Spector / Global News

Parti Quebecois MNA Joël Arseneau said Guilbault should apologize to the grieving couple, even if she wasn’t the one who made the mistake.

“I think now is the time, today is the time to apologize, whether it’s her responsibility or not,” Arsenau told reporters Friday morning. “It’s the entire CAQ, as a political party, that is, you know, seen as exploiting people’s misery, and this is really unfortunate.”

CAQ director general Brigitte Legault said Friday that the party was “sorry for this turn of events” involving Bittar and Rivera. She also pointed to the CAQ decision last week to stop accepting donations to “prevent cases like this from tarnishing our integrity.”

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The CAQ has been criticized by the opposition in recent weeks for its fundraising strategies, including that mayors were allegedly pressured to pay $100 for access to cabinet ministers. The Canadian Press recently reported that almost half of Quebec’s mayors have contributed nearly $100,000 to the CAQ’s coffers since the 2021 municipal election.

— with files from Global’s Franca Mignacca, Dan Spector and The Canadian Press

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